This is the 22nd Peter Robinson mystery, an extraordinarily good innings for any author and as well as for his major character Alan Banks. The title is borrowed from a Nick Cave song and fits the theme beautifully.
Last night, just as I finished the book, the news was featuring a 5 per cent increase in agricultural crime involving the theft of sheep, which finish up in unregistered abattoirs, right up to combine harvesters destined for Eastern Europe. Experienced copper as he might be, it is all relatively new territory for DCI Banks and even more so for his vegetarian sidekick DI Annie Cabbot.
The story begins when an Afghanistan veteran walking his dog near a remote aircraft hangar awaiting redevelopment as a shopping village, has to retrieve the dog who has managed to find her way into the hangar. Inside he finds both dog and a “South American shaped” pool of blood which turns out to be human.
Not far away, John Beddoes, a city financier turned gentleman farmer, returns from holiday in Mexico to find that his expensive tractor has disappeared. While he’s been away the farm has been overseen by Frank Lane, one of the more struggling local farmers who denies any knowledge or involvement in the theft. However, Michael, his son becomes the immediate suspect, having had a series of run-ins with the other farmer and a juvenile record for joy-riding. Michael has also gone missing from the high-rise he shares in the nearby town with girlfriend Alex and her son Ian. The case against Michael becomes even stronger when Morgan Spencer, shady and disreputable friend of Michael’s with who he did the occasional bit of removal work, is also found to have done a runner.
This then is the situation which Banks encounters on his return from a short holiday in Umbria with his new girlfriend. So are the various elements all linked? As the investigation begins in earnest it quickly transpires that the answer is positive.
I am sure that the vast majority of the people who have already bought Abattoir Blues, thereby propelling it to the top of the hardback bestsellers chart in its first week of publication, will be enthralled by the journey through the Yorkshire peaks and dales, its largely impoverished farms, and grim registered and unregistered slaughterhouses, though some may be sufficiently uncomfortable by the journey to join Annie Cabbot in a meat-free existence. Though halfway through the book I was tempted to wish that Banks and the other would move the investigation along a bit quicker. But by the last quarter of the book the investigation has not only taken shape, it has also expanded to include murder, international smuggling and currency fraud. At which point I had forgiven the author for the doubts I had harboured and settled back to enjoy what was to become a most exciting and enjoyable conclusion.