A Necessary End
Reviewed: November 15, 2006
By: Peter Robinson
Publisher: Penguin Canada
312 pages, $18.00
I’m continuing my investigation into
the career of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks with the third novel in
his adventures. Originally published in 1989, A Necessary End still
manages to have a sort of timeless feel to it. The English small town settings
are strange enough to us to be as much a never-never land as Miss Marple’s
small villages, and the pop culture references don’t get in the way of that
Aside from his work, Banks’ primary
hobby seems to be music, and this book’s focus on jazz and classical is all
over the map, not tying him to any particular era.
The title’s glancing allusion to Julius
Caesar (“Death, a necessary end, will come when it will...”) is also a
bit of a clue that the first death in the book, that of a police officer during
an anti-nuclear protest in Eastvale, may have been more than an accident.
It turns out that P.C. Gill, who took a killing blow with a knife, was not
a nice man, but a power driven bully who took pleasure in being on duty in
crowd situations, and probably shouted the order which turned the noisy, but
peaceful, demonstration into a mob scene.
This is an unusual thing for Eastvale,
a town of some 14,000 souls which seems to have been left behind in time somewhat.
Banks had moved there to get away from the bustle of London, but things seem
to be catching up with him. In this case, the demonstration was about a nuclear
power plant, but it seems was more trouble brewing beneath the surface.
Banks might have been able to get to
the root of all this sooner but for the arrival on the scene of Detective
Superintendent Richard "Dirty Dick" Burgess, an old enemy of his
from his London days. Burgess believes in terrorists and insists on approaching
the whole situation as an exercise in national security, while Banks thinks
that the motive may be more old-fashioned and personal than that. This is
a line of inquiry that he has to carry on almost in his spare time, for Dirty
Dick will have none of it.
What Dick will have is a lot of trouble
with the local boyfriends, as he stakes a claim on their women. His particular
target is a barmaid in one of the taverns where he and Banks often meet to
compare notes, and we await his comeuppance with some anticipation. But that’s
all a sideshow to the main event, which is the murder investigation.
There’s a bit of a commune on nearby
Maggie’s Farm (a nod to Bob Dylan, one assumes). Both Banks and Burgess focus
on its members, but for different reasons. Seth is a gentle master carpenter
and the owner of the place along with Mara, his girlfriend. Paul Boyd, a drifter
with a violent streak, is an easy suspect, especially when he runs. Zoe Hardacre
is the New Age astrologer of the lot, while Rick Trelawney is an artist with
Marxist leanings, never a good thing during the Thatcher years.
The whole investigation takes place
during a period when Banks’ wife and kids are off somewhere else, and one
suspects that the author had already decided that his man wasn’t going to
have a normal family life much longer. Banks’ more or less platonic friendship
with Jenny Fuller is tested by the fact that she is going out with social
worker Dennis Osmond, who is also one of the suspects in the case. Since Banks
first met Jenny there’s been a definite impression that they might easily
become closer if not for Banks’ marriage. The jealousy and discomfort he feels
when he finds her in Osmond’s apartment, as well as the ragging he gets from
Burgess over his evident reaction, are probably harbingers of things to come.
Robinson tells a good yarn. You can
sink into these tales like into a hot bath and just let the experience wash
over you. I’ll be back to report on number four in a few month’s time.