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 ambiance.

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.