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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Summer That Never Was

Reviewed: December 30, 2008
By: Peter Robinson
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
496 pages, $10.99

The Summer that Never Was is Robinson’s 16th novel and the 14th in the acclaimed Alan Banks series. I haven’t been able to keep up with Robinson, who has recently been touring Canada in support of book number 21, AlI the Colours of Darkness. I discovered him only a few years ago and have been working my way through omnibus collections of the earlier books while also reading some of the newer stories. I picked this one up while travelling in Britain last fall and read some of it while riding a bus through the region of Yorkshire that Robinson, who grew up there, emigrated to Canada, acquired his postgraduate degrees in Ontario, and taught at a number of colleges in Toronto prior to his career as a mystery writer taking off, has fictionalized as Banks’ home turf.

In some ways the later books (this one included) might aptly be called Alan Banks/Annie Cabbot mysteries, since they seem to feature both detectives in almost equal proportions. Banks and Cabbot have had an on-gain, off-again relationship since she first appeared in the series and as this one opens Banks is licking his wounds on leave in Greece after she broke off with him.

He’s also rethinking his career options. Apparently the case before this one, which I haven’t read yet, was a rough one, and he’s not sure he can take much more police work.

All that introspection comes to a crashing halt when he learns that the body of a young boy has been discovered near the town where he grew up. He only knew Graham Marshall for a short few months in 1965, but he and several other buddies were a tight group for a time and when Graham disappeared no one ever knew what had happened.

Banks had always carried a load of guilt though, for he feared that Graham had been accosted by the same derelict who had once grabbed him that summer. Banks had never told anyone about that experience at the time, for it would have meant admitting that he had been somewhere he wasn’t supposed to have been, and doing something his parents wouldn’t have liked. If he had spoken up, might Graham have been saved?

This guilt causes him to cut short his leave and head home. If there’s finally an answer to the mystery of Graham’s vanishing, Banks feels he has to be in on it. It means digging up a bit of his past, encountering some of those old chums and reassessing some of the things he took for granted as a boy. It also means spending time with his parents and trying to sort out some of the issues that both he and his father have been avoiding for years.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Cabbot has a parallel mystery on her hands. Luke Armitage is the son of retired footballer Martin and his wife, Ruth. Well, actually he’s the son of Ruth and Neil Byrd, legendary rocker who had walked out on Ruth when the boy was two and who had died twelve years before the events of this novel.

Luke has vanished, and it soon appears that he has been kidnapped. But, like Banks’ memories of that 1965 summer, Cabbot quickly discovers that very little about the Armitage family, or about Luke’s life, is quite what it seems to be.

The title of this one is very apt, because it calls up lots of associations about the assumptions we make, the nature of our manufactured realities and the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of the chaos which often swirls around us.

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