What is it about British whodunits that I love so much? I have recently started re-reading Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Banks books, and in the past two weeks have raced through four and am tackling the fifth now!
Actually, perhaps it is not hard to see why I am hooked. Back from my dream trip to England a couple of months ago, when Robinson describes the Yorkshire countryside, the sweep of the green valleys and meadows, criss-crossed with drystone walls and dotted with sheep, the meandering becks and lonely roads—something that he does with consummate skill—I can close my eyes and imagine myself back there.
Add to that the fact that Robinson is a skilful narrator. Having read all but two of the Banks books, I can’t remember a single one that didn’t grip me right from the start. The cases range from peeping Toms to perverted killers, and like all good fictional detectives, Alan Banks has you rooting for him. Unlike Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel (Dee-ell), Banks is easy to like, and he tries to say and do the right thing. If one thing rankles, it is how every major character in the book is so darned good-looking! Right from Banks, who is small and slight, but with dark hair and a mysterious scar above his right eye. He has been described as dishy by women ranging across all ages!
The Yorkshire connection continues with Reginald Hill, who is a very different cup of tea. His Dalziel and Pascoe novels are based in the region known as mid-Yorkshire. I have not been able to figure out the city/town. Superintendent Dalziel is a fat, coarse man, but even though he tries to hide the fact, his heart is in the right place. His political incorrectness borders on criminal insensitivity, but the coarse exterior hides arguably the most intelligent man between the pages of fiction His right-hand man is the suave Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe. The spectacularly ugly Sergeant Wield and lately the youthful Constable Shirley ‘Ivor’ Novello make up the rest of the team.
Hill’s strength lies in his sublime prose, something he churns out with effortless regularity without slipping into the ridiculous. There have been times I have stopped reading just to mentally applaud! The very forgettable Arms and the Women apart, the Dalziel and Pascoe books are wholly entertaining. In fact, On Beulah Height is the most stunning and complete crime novel I have read. (Just for the record, reviews of most of these books are available on Writeside.net’s books section.)
Moving further north, we come to Scottish writer Ian Rankin, and his creation Inspector John Rebus, based in Edinburgh. Rebus is a dark and brooding character, given to drink and depression. He has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick, and run-ins with higher-ups are routine for him. Actor John Hannah’s depiction of Rebus in the TV series is exactly how I imagined him! Partnering him—often in his madness—is his friend and colleague Siobhan Clarke. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two develops in this ongoing series.
Hill, Rankin and Robinson—in that order—take the crime writing genre to new heights. There was a time when I used to swear by the likes of Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter, but that seems ordinary fare now. No offence!