playing with fire

Playing with Fire

Peter Robinson


£15.99 hbk Rel Jan 2004

Reviewed by Ali Karim

I always greet the next Inspector Alan Banks adventure like meeting up with an old friend after being apart for a year. And I am pleased to state that after each successive book, the pleasure has been getting better each time Peter Robinson brings out a new book. But this time we are in for a really hot treat. Robinson has been giving Banks a pretty tough time, and in ‘Playing with Fire’ the poor detective is in the middle of a hunt for a murderous pyromaniac.

Two canal barges are found burning, and once the flames are extinguished, Inspector Banks and his team are summoned, as bodies are found inside. So the murder investigation commences to find out who and why were two people killed in their canal boats by a mysterious arsonist. One of the victims was a painter and the other a young girl, hooked on drugs that gave her peace from her nightmare past. Like all of Banks’s adventures, we are confronted by a great number of red-herrings as well as subsidiary plots and insights into the darker motivations of the human mind. The lock-keeper who called the police may have more to hide than he admits. The parents and boyfriend of the murdered girl hooked on drugs, appear to be hiding knowledge in the shadows of her former life. Banks’s former partner Annie Cabot has found a new love in her life that grates against poor old Alan, and makes him lose his objectivity, and all the while fires rage around them, and they appear heading closer to home.

The writing is clean, and hypnotic as apart from the police procedural aspect, we are greeted with a long look into the darkness of the human mind. The book opens with a first person prologue and closes with the same first person voice. As the rest of the book is written in third person, it appears that Robinson is book-ending this tale from the viewpoint of a dangerous sociopath. This tale is a very fast moving and interesting read, and enters the territory that readers of Thomas Harris, or Patricia Highsmith would be more familiar with. The conclusion is stunning, and I have to say that I am shocked at the turn of events, and am at odds as to what Peter Robinson will do with Alan Banks after this story. I am also shocked at the last few lines of dialogue in which Banks speaks to two loves of his life. I guess working with such brutality does alter behavior, and I guess Alan Banks has really been through the grinder this time. In a word, the conclusion is inflammatory. To understand what I mean, I guess you are going to have to read the book, which will be a delight.