A Dedicated Man: An Inspector Banks mystery

Reviewed: October 19, 2005
By: Peter Robinson
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
272 pages, $9.99

Bodies are discovered in a number of places in this, the second mystery in the Inspector Banks series. The first body pops out of a stone wall while a local farmer in Helmthorpe is making a few repairs. Harry Steadman, the dead man, is a former professor of archeology who inherited a fortune and has been using it to follow up his professional interests. He and his wife retired to Helmsthorpe, and he had been indulging his passion for Roman ruins ever since.

Harry was a lovely fellow. Everyone says so: his wife, his writing partner, the local doctor, the mystery writer, the folk singer, all the guys at the pub and not a few former university colleagues. All of which begs the question of why anyone would want to kill him and stuff him in a stone wall.

All of the folk I’ve mentioned so far are suspects, of course, and one of them gets nervous when a local high school girl with delusions of adulthood thinks she knows something and shares it with the wrong person. Her body was supposed to stay hidden a bit longer, but high water in the local creek washed it up under a bridge.

As she was one of our viewpoint characters in this layered narrative, Sally’s demise actually does matter to us and turns up the temperature under the plot a bit.

While we know that Alan Banks’ marriage will eventually fall apart, this second book doesn’t show too many signs of strain. When I read A Gallows View I found the family references to be perfunctory, but there was more home life showing in this installment, and the family seemed like it could be salvaged.

Banks is still adjusting to rural life after spending his earlier career in London, and some people can’t understand why he would have left the Smoke for the boondocks. The way things are going for him, he’s wondering if the rural life is really any more peaceful than the mess he left behind.

These mysteries aren’t exactly police procedural novels. Aside from the fact that he has aides to do some of the legwork for him and can call in the forensics crew to catalogue the physical evidence, Banks is pretty much a people person, and his path to a solution isn’t a lot different than the one that would be taken by Miss Marple. Although the murdered man is the fellow referred to in the title, it takes another dedicated man to bring his murder to justice.

Robinson writes good stuff though, and I’m looking forward to my next foray into the wilds of Eastvale.