by Peter Robinson (Hodder & Stoughton, 2010)
Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series has usually been on my “safe favourites” list. In other words, none of the brilliance of an Ian Rankin or Reginald Hill, but wholly dependable for some solid entertainment. Except that in the last few years I haven’t been that sure and the nineteenth Alan Banks mystery, Bad Boy, left me unmoved.
Alan Banks is away on holiday, “finding himself” in America, one assumes because of the consequences of what happened in the previous book, All the Colours of Darkness. That, in fact, is the reason for all the mess. Banks’ former neighbour walks into Eastvale police station looking for him and in a bit of a lather. A gun has been found in her daughter Erin Doyle’s room and the young woman is refusing to say where it came from. Good citizen that she is, Juliet Doyle comes straight to the cops. Well, to be fair, she came to seek Banks’ advice, but because he’s not in and Inspector Annie Cabot speaks to her instead, it sets into motion a right palaver, resulting in an armed unit being called in, their house being surrounded and then forcibly entered by the armed cops, and Erin’s father Patrick knocked down by a taser, an injury that costs him his life.
It turns out that Erin has had a bit of a spat with her boyfriend, the dashing-with-a-hint-of-danger Jaff, short for Jaffar, and and took his gun to spite him. It also turns out that back in Leeds, Erin shares a home with Tracy Banks, Alan Banks’ daughter, and that Tracy has a thing for Jaff. Thus, circumstances turn out such that Tracy, excited at the thought of being with Jaff and impressing him, offers him her father’s home in Gratly to lie low in till the brouhaha dies down. Bad choice. For Tracy is soon a hostage and on the run, being used and abused by the now-not-so-dashing Jaff, and Inspector Annie Cabbot is fighting for her life after being shot at. Of course, it needs Banks to come home and sort things out.
Sounds exciting enough, but the story doesn’t really build up tempo. Banks only makes an appearance around page 70 and by then the story is already beginning to drag. Tracy has been such an idiot already that you don’t much care what happens to her. Over the last few books Annie Cabbot too has begun to grate, especially because of the torch she still seems to carry for Banks. Moreover, I was a little puzzled about how Banks was more worried about Cabbot, who was admittedly at death’s door, than about his daughter who was missing in the company of a dangerous psychopath. There was no murder, so not much of a whodunit element; neither was there much of suspence. In many instances it seemed to me that people were jumping to (miraculously accurate) conclusions.
There were a few things about Bad Boy that got on my wrong side right from the start. First of all, though I understand gun laws in the UK are very strict and I am personally not in favour of people walking about carrying guns or keeping them in their houses, the song and dance that resulted from a mother finding a gun in her (grown-up) daughter’s bedroom seemed way over the top to me. Second, twenty-four-year-old Tracy Banks was a caricature, the worst kind of stereotype of young women: brainless, an attraction towards “dangerous” men, and wondering what to do with her hair when her life is at stake. Then there was the police officer from the armed response unit, Nerys Powell. It would be interesting to see her in future in the this series, but her sexuality was needlessly harped on about, I felt. Nor was her “crush” on Cabbot convincingly portrayed. It is my theory that Robinson doesn’t really do women characters well. They appear to be fantasies of how women are expected to be rather than well-rounded humans. One might argue that Winsome Jackman is one of the more interesting women in the pages of crime fiction this side of Siobhan Clarke, but she too appears wooden to me.
All of this seems to be a lot of quibble, but Bad Boy is an okay read. It’s disappointing on the heels of the rest of the Banks series, but first-time readers ought to go away reasonably satisfied.