All the Colors of Darkness by Peter Robinson, with a Yorkshire diversion

June 18, 2009 at 11:57 am (Anglophilia, Book review, books, Mystery fiction, Short stories, The British police procedural, Travel)

Peter Robinson’s “The Price of Love” has been nominated for this year’s  CWA Short Story Dagger. I’m pleased to report that I really enjoyed this story, which can be found in this anthology blue. In fact, I’m especially pleased because I recently read All the Colors of Darkness, the latest  Alan Banks novel, and, alas, found it in some degree wanting.

Along with my close friend Marge (often referred to in this space as my “partner in crime” – meaning nothing more sinister than a shared enthusiasm for crime fiction), I began reading Robinson’s Alan Banks series at the very beginning. Gallows View came out here in 1987 and was hailed by critics and readers alike to be a worthy addition to the venerable tradition of the British police procedural. Along with Marge,  I have read every book in this series and gotten a great deal of enjoyment from the experience. But IMHO, All the Colors of Darkness did not quite a measure up to the high standard that, over the years,  Robinson has set for himself.

darkness The novel had its pleasures, for sure. In one scene,  Banks’s second-in-command (and erstwhile love interest) Annie Cabot goes to the house of Nicky Haskell, a young punk who may have useful information concerning a case she’s investigating. A surprise awaits her there, but it has nothing to do with her case; instead, it evolves into a rather humorous exchange with Nicky:

“‘Mind if I turn the TV down?’ Annie asked.

‘Knock yourself out.’

‘ Midsomer Murders,’ Annie said as she turned the volume down. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that was your cup of tea.’

‘It’s soothing, innit? Like watching paint dry.’

Annie quite liked the program. It was so far removed from the real policing she did that she accepted it for what it was and didn’t even find herself looking for mistakes.

I’m a great fan of Midsomer Murders myself, and this exchange made me smile. I only wish the rest of the dialogue in the novel was comparable. But awkward dialogue was not the only problem I had with All the Colors of Darkness.  The convoluted plot involves the death of two men, one of whom turns out to have been involved in intelligence work. Nothing wrong with this premise, at least, not initially. But about a third of the way along, Banks comes up with a theory of the crime that seemed to me to have pulled out of left field. He’s gotten this idea – an idee fixe, I would almost call it – as a result of recently attending a performance of  Othello. Now I’m all in favor of cultured detectives – I’m a devoted fan of Adam Dalgliesh, Reg Wexford, and,  naturally, Morse – but I can’t help feeling that in this instance, it would have been better if Banks had just taken in a movie that night instead.  Or perhaps he could have gone to a concert; his passion for music , after all, is one of his more endearing characteristics.

And yet, and yet…as I said before, the novel does succeed in some ways. Robinson excels in descriptive passages; his skill in this area has, I think, been insufficiently appreciated. Of course, the Banks novels have a terrific advantage in regard to setting, since they take place in one of the most magical and beautiful places in the  world: Yorkshire.

[These videos were made by Ron from my photographs of my trip to Yorkshire in 2005. Be sure to turn up  the sound so that you can hear “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I’ll hold off on the superlatives; the music speaks for itself.]

Alan Banks currently lives in a cottage on the outskirts of a small village. Annie Cabot declares herself surprised by his choice of such an isolated dwelling place, but at this moment in his life, it’s what suits him. Behind the cottage runs a stream, Gratly Beck, and Banks finds peace by sitting on a wall there and taking in the beautiful surroundings:

“It was after sunset, but there was still a glow deep in the cloudless western sky, dark orange and indigo. Banks could smell warm grass and manure mingles with something sweet, perhaps flowers that only opened at night. A horse whinnied in a distant field. The stone he sat on was still warm and he could see the lights of Helmthorpe between the trees, down at the bottom of  the dale, the outline of a square church tower with its odd round turret dark and heavy against the sky.

I don’t know about you, but I feel I could be deeply happy in such a place.

Ultimately, reading All the Colors of Darkness was, for me, a frustrating experience, with the novel’s undisputed strengths only serving to magnify its weaknesses. Once again, I warmly commend to crime fiction readers “The Price of Love.” Peter Robinson won the Edgar for Best Short Story in 2001 with “Missing in Action,” a taut tale set during the Second World War. (Robinson has an excellent feel for that era, as he amply demonstrated in novel In a Dry Season.)

“Missing in Action” can be found in finest

I note that Peter Robinson has just come out with a story collection: priceI look forward to reading it, as I’ve come to believe that this form is particularly congenial to his talents.

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson


  1. Philip said,

    I used to be a great admirer of Robinson’s books, but I’m inclined to think there was a considerable falling-off with Aftermath, which I thought cheap and exploitive, and a dramatic one with Strange Affair, which I thought extraordinarily formulaic, as if the work of a tired author and/or one who had agreed to too short a deadline. It annoyed me so much — I remember particularly ridiculous lines spent describing the passing scene as Banks travelled on the train from central London to Hounslow West!! — that I have not bothered with him since.

  2. Peter Robinson comes roaring back with Bad Boy « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] was somewhat disappointed in the last book in this series, All the Colors of Darkness. Bad Boy is a better book in so many ways: tighter plotting, snappier dialog, and most importantly, […]

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