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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Friend of the Devil

Reviewed: June 26, 2009
By: Peter Robinson
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
432 pages, $11.00

One of the confusing things about jumping into the middle of a series is keeping the relationships straight. Somewhere along the track of the Alan Banks series he and Annie Cabot have a romantic relationship that doesn’t work out well, and while they still have a fairly solid working relationship as detectives after that, there is an awkwardness between them.

My problem is that I’m reading books from both before and after that event, and I’ve not encountered the pivot yet. In the early books Banks is married. The family doesn’t play a big part in the stories, but there’s no serious signs of trouble yet. In the later books, Alan has a few almost flings, but Annie’s always there, so to speak.

In fact, many of the later books could really be called Banks/Cabot mysteries, since they often work together and seem to get about equal time in the division of point on view chapters. That’s certainly the case with this novel, the 17th in the series and just two away from being right up to date.

The book opens with a two murders and a personal crisis. The first murder scene, at the edge o a cliff overlooking the sea, is actually given to us from the point of view of an inquisitive seagull and it’s only the grisly last six words of that paragraph that make us realize what’s happened.

The second is a more standard affair which ruins Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks’ plans for a peaceful Sunday. The body of the young girl was found in small storage building within a narrow lane in the business district of Eastvale. It was a case of rape and murder, and there were very few clues.

The personal crisis is that Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot finds herself waking up in a strange bed with a man who is quite a bit younger than she is whose name she does not know, after a night that she does not remember. I’ve noted before that police officers in English procedurals seem to drink more than can possibly be healthy for them. It’s probably a good sign that Annie is panicked by this turn of events, Blackouts are just not good news.

Before she has much chance to absorb this, she gets a call to go see the body on the cliff.

There does not seem to be an immediate connection between the two crimes. Annie is currently on loan to another division, so the two crimes are not even in the same district.

Annie’s investigations are complicated by the fact that the dead woman on the cliff has been living in a home for the severely disabled under an assumed name. Due to an accident she looks much older than she is and she is not who she appears to be. The solution to her killing is to be found in her past, in a case that both Cabbot and Banks were involved in about six years earlier (and in a book I haven’t read yet).

So a good portion of this novel is spent unravelling the clues that lead to the true identity of the murdered woman and just what that might mean in terms of a motive for killing her.

Meanwhile, Banks is stuck trying to figure out how anyone could have got in and out of that narrow lane without being caught by the ubiquitous closed circuit television cameras that seem to be everywhere in England. There are some possible motives for the death of the young woman, Hayley Daniels, but none of them seem to pan out, and it’s only after another death in the same alley, one with similarities to Annie’s case, that the two detective realize there has to be a connection. At this point the case is made more urgent by the fact that the second victim is a member of Banks’ team.

Banks and Cabbot might have realized the connection a bit sooner except that Annie is being stalked by the young man of the one-night-stand and she’s too embarrassed by the whole thing to be comfortable around Banks, her former lover. They are used to bouncing ideas off each other and often come up with solutions in this way, so the strain s professional as well as personal.

As with many of Robinson’s novels the climax comes swiftly and suddenly. This time there was some key information withheld, but Annie didn’t have it either until she already reached a solution via another line of thought, so it wasn’t cheating on Robinson’s part.

Annie’s reaction to the events of the final chapter is quite human and touching. We see that a relationship has been repaired, although other events in the story tell us that we have no idea where it will go next.

Now I have to decide which end of Banks’ life to read about next.

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