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When The Music’s Over

WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER – Between The Covers

BanksThe van skids to a halt on the lonely hill top lane. Occasional distant lights from isolated farms and cottages are all that pierce the darkness. The young men inside the van giggle as they open the rear doors and throw the girl from the dirty mattress on which she has been sprawled. She hits the roadside with a body-jarring crunch.

Thus begins the 23rd episode in the career of Yorkshire copper, Alan Banks, who we first met in 1987, when he had moved from London to the Yorkshire Dales to work in the market town of Eastvale. Banks is now Detective Superintendent, but what long-time readers of the series might call The Eastvale Repertory Company are pretty much all present and correct, in the shape of fellow cops Annie Cabbot, Winsome Jackson and Ken Blackstone. We even have a guest appearance from one of Banks’s less wholesome colleagues, Richard “Dirty Dick” Burgess, who is now working for the National Crime Agency, the closest thing to the FBI within the UK.

The unfortunate girl we meet in the first few pages does not take the stage again, unless we include her appearance on the mortuary slab. She has been found by a shocked cyclist, the morning after her ride in the van ended so abruptly. She is stark naked, and has died from a severe beating. Whatever took place on Bradham Lane is not the most pressing concern for Alan Banks, however. He is called to a high level conference and brought into what will become an investigation into the life and crimes of Danny Caxton, a much loved and respected entertainer and performer on stage and TV. Caxton, like his real life counterparts Savile and Harris, was ever-present in living rooms and lounges of ordinary people up and down the land, for decades. Now in his eighties, he has been accused of historic sex crimes.

While Banks must focus on the Caxton case, by his new seniority he must also oversee the investigation into the murder of the girl on Bradham Lane. Annie Cabbot is doing most of the legwork on this, and with the help of Detective Constable Geraldine Masterson, she discovers that the dead girl is Mimosa ‘Mimsy’ Moffat. Mimsy was 15, knocking-on 25, sexually attractive and experienced, and with a home life so bad that neither ‘home’ nor ‘life’ seem to be the right words. Cabbot and Masterson begin to explore the connection between Mimsy and the Pakistani Briton who runs a kebab shop on the edge of a nearby run-down estate.

By this time, we have met Danny Claxton in his Ponderosa-style home, and a thoroughly reptilian character he seems to be – a far cry from the smiling, handsome and genial TV presence of his younger days. Banks’s chief witness – and accuser – is Linda Palmer. She is now a widow in middle age, but has become a respected and well published poet. Her accusation about Caxton dates back to what should have been a happy family holiday in Blackpool in the 1960s.

As the two cases run their parallel courses, I found the investigation into Mimsy Moffat’s death the more compelling. Robinson takes an unflinching look at the issue of vulnerable white girls being groomed and abused by men of Pakistani origin. He exposes the extremes of views held by all those involved, from the men themselves, the girls and their relatives and – most tellingly – those in positions of power, such as the police and social workers. Banks himself, probably due to his management responsibilities, keeps his own anger in check, but Robinson allows Annie Cabbot to voice her violent disgust – a feeling which I infer is shared by the author.

The book is only a whodunnit for a short period of time, as there are enough clues for CriFi buffs to work out who murdered Mimsy. Robinson’s broader message seems to be a variant on Who Killed Cock Robin? For the fly, the fish, the beetle and the owl we could probably substitute:

‘”I,” said the policeman, “with my fear of being called racist.”‘
‘” I,” said the social worker, “with my political correctness.”‘
‘”I,” said the kebab shop owner, “with my attitude towards women.”‘
‘”I,” said the mother, “with my drug addiction and neglect.”‘

There is closure, of a kind, in both cases, but Robinson, in his epilogue, offers us nothing resembling a happy ending. This book is, at its core, a brilliant police procedural. Crime fiction fans are no strangers to the police interview room, but Robinson not only uses the staple ingredient very cleverly, he gives it a lick of fresh paint, a new carpet – and maybe even a nice vase of flowers on the table. My only irritation was – as always with Banks – that we learn far more than we ever need to know about his tastes in music, but an irritation is all it was, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this excellent book.

When The Music’s Over is on Amazon, as well as in all decent book shops, and you can find out more about Alan Banks and his creator by visiting Peter Robinson’s website.

ON MY SHELF

ON MY SHELF is a regular feature looking at recent and upcoming books which  will be of interest to crime fans.

JULY 2016

OMS1

The History of Blood by Paul Mendelson
Sadly, the euphoria over Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation has long since faded, and political and social reality has taken its place. The Republic is one of the most dangerous and crime blighted places in the world, and we take a grim journey through that reality, led by the beleaguered Colonel Vaughn de Vries and Don February of the Special Crimes Unit. Corruption is never far from the surface, and the scars of historic misdeeds are still raw and – in some cases – still bleeding. Buy The History Of Blood here.

When The Music’s Over by Peter Robinson
Twenty three books in, and one of CriFi’s most enduring – if not endearing – glum and introspective coppers, Alan Banks, now promoted to the dizzy heights of Detective Superintendent, shows no signs of retiring. His foil and sometime-soulmate Annie Cabbot is also still going strong, and the pair investigate apparently unconnected crimes. Cabbot’s is the brutal death of a teenage girl, apparently tossed from a moving vehicle like a discarded chocolate bar wrapper, while Banks wades into the murky waters of a historic allegation of sexual abuse involving a celebrity. Buy Peter Robinson’s latest novel here.

The Dead House by Harry Bingham
How can feisty, crazy, fearless and utterly adorable Fiona Griffiths still only be a humble Detective Constable? Only her creator, Harry Bingham, knows, but our girl is back for her fifth battle with the forces of evil. Fi suffers from Cotard’s Syndrome, a bizarre condition which is occasionally incapacitating, but also gifts the sufferer with startling insights. The ‘dead house’ of the title is a place where, in medieval times, corpses were laid prior to burial. A very modern murder challenges Fi, however, and her empathy with the dead takes her into places where modern malice and ancient evil combine to terrifying effect. Check out Harry Bingham’s Amazon page for more information about the startling DC Fiona Griffiths.

The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius
Back now to South Africa. The root of the story lies not in the modern Republic, with all its contradictions and uncertainties, but in the even darker days at the turn of the twentieth century, when the Boer rebellion against British rule was put down with all the ferocity that a colonial power could muster. One of the least honourable contributions to world history by Britain was the invention of the concentration camp. In one such place, a British doctor conducts horrific experiments on prisoners. A century later it becomes horribly obvious that his work did not die with him. A young constable with the South African police becomes drawn into a case which will take her into a world where the reality is even worse than her nightmares. The Monster’s Daughter is out later this month.

A Black Sail by Rich Zahradnick
Despite the name of the main character, Coleridge Taylor, and the evocative cover, this is not a historical novel. OK. it’s set in the 1970s, but maybe that doesn’t count. Coleridge Taylor is a journalist. He is also an ex-cop, dismissed for an over-inventive approach to evidence. It’s the eve of the 1976 bicentennial, and the citizens of The Big Apple are drawn to the waterfront, where a whole fleet of replica tall ships are assembled to add to the spectacle. In this, the third of the series, Coleridge Taylor gets sucked in to a very modern murder mystery involving bricks of heroin, Chinese gangs and the traditional Mafia goons of New York City. A Black Sail will be out in USA later in the year.

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