Peter Robinson comes roaring back with Bad Boy

October 10, 2010 at 8:51 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

It’s personal this time: Alan Banks’s daughter Tracy – or, as she’s taken to calling herself, Francesca – has fallen in with a bad lot. To make matters worse, she fancies one Jaffar McCready, the boyfriend of her roommate Erin. Realizing that the attraction is mutual, Erin angrily decamps  to her parents’ house in order to lick her wounds and sulk. For some inexplicable reason, she has brought with her a Smith & Wesson revolver, origin unknown. When Erin’s mother Juliet  finds the gun, she is baffled and horrified and goes straight to the police.

At the station, Juliet asks if she can speak to DCI Alan Banks. He’s a former neighbor and family friend. But Banks is vacationing in the U.S. So the case goes to his partner, DI Annie Cabbot.

Meanwhile, Jaffar McCready has troubles of his own.  He needs to get out of his own digs pronto and find somewhere to hide. Eager to ingratiate herself with her new flame, Tracy tells him she knows just the place. They can go together. And they do. This fateful act plunges Tracy, Jaffar, and a host of other people – innocent and not-so-innocent – into a world of trouble.

This novel was a page turner right from the get-go. My heart was in my mouth as I watched Tracy Banks teetering at the edge of a precipice:

She was standing by the car looking down over the terraced gardens and the river, which rushed along over rocks in little waterfalls below the steep castle walls to her right. She remembered walking there with her father when she was younger, holding his hand tight as they passed near the edge of a sheer drop, afraid of falling, asking him how the little flowers could grow out of the crumbling stone. He told her they were called rosebay willow herb and they could also grow after forest fires. She thought what a lovely name that was for something so strong and durable. Sometimes the wind was so wild that she thought it would blow them both away like autumn leaves, but he had said he wouldn’t ever let her go, and he never had. Not until now.

Oh my goodness – This is, after all, the daughter of Alan Banks, the stalwart, music-loving policeman whose family life and career I’ve been following since he first appeared on the crime fiction scene in 1987 in Gallows View. I wanted to leap into this narrative, confront Banks as he wanders around the American West waxing philosophical and looking for traces of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, grab him by the lapels, and shout,  Your daughter’s in serious danger, and that’s not the worst of it. Get on the next plane back to Yorkshire and straighten this mess out!

I 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, believable characters whose fate you care about. Robinson’s writing is exceptionally fine here, with vividly rendered set pieces like the one quoted above. As with most great crime fiction, setting matters in this series. Robinson’s descriptions of Yorkshire are lyrical and intensely felt:

The room had a magnificent view north, from the thin ribbon of Gratly Beck glittering in the moonlight past Helmthorpe Church, with its square tower and odd turret attached, then beyond the lights of the small market town to the opposite daleside, peaking in the magnificent limestone curve of Crow Scar above the high pastures and drystone walls, still visible, white as bone in the silvery moonlight.

Wish you were there? I’ve been there, and I long to go back.

This is the site that was recommended to me when I signed up for Hidden Treasures of Yorkshire, a tour offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2005. When I first gazed at these visuals, I exclaimed, “Surely it can’t still look like that?” And yet much of it still does. In this video, Peter Robinson talks about that landscape and its importance in Bad Boy. He makes some interesting observations about his main character as well:

Peter Robinson did one thing in this novel that I found disturbing. A young woman is killed in a most horrible way, and the scene of the crime is rendered in lurid detail. It was unnecessarily repugnant.


On a more positive note: Hopefully we here in the States won’t have to wait too long for this welcome addition to the vast and wonderful galaxy of British detectives to be seen on “the telly:”


  1. Pauline Cohen said,

    Hi Roberta,

    I too enjoyed “Bad Boy”. I agree that the death of the woman was terrible and unnecessary–in fact, I skimmed over the description as I couldn’t bear to read it. I don’t know why Peter Robinson still puts these ghastly scenes in his books. I thought that he’d gotten this mayhem out of his system after writing “Aftermath”. Other than that scene, he’s back to writing a compelling book.


  2. kathy d. said,

    I just don’t understand this gratuitous violence, horror, gore and blood being put into mysteries. I have read that publishers want authors to do this.
    I read at Eurocrime that some British publishers want women authors to put more violence into books, that women like it…huh? No woman I know likes it–except one.

    Even reading Stieg Larsson’s books, friends and I skipped the worst violent scenes.

    A poll was put up at Eurocrime asking if women like violence in mysteries written by women and the vast majority who answered said “NO.”

    So maybe some men like thrillers with violence. They do not seem to be bothered by it as much as are women.

    I think some writers are writing to a specific readership, one that likes violence and gore, and publishers encourage it.

    I think that violent and gristly scenes are a substitute for good writing, or a good plot, or good puzzle or characters. Of the best mysteries over the many decades of mystery writing, it seems that gratuitous violence is absent. It does not a good book make, and certainly not a classic.

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