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
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
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.