Thursday, January 8, 2009
Book Report/A Necessary End
1. A Necessary End - third in the Inspector Banks series -
by Peter Robinson
paperback, 340 pages
We are all aware of the many new technologies that have come along in the past several years. We take them for granted now. Where we used to run to the phone to 'catch' the call, we now let the answering machine deal with it. Kids can't make prank calls anymore because of caller id. We never have to search around for a phone booth because we have cell phones. And the differences that have come with computers are myriad.
Nowhere am I more startled by the changes than in mystery fiction. I'll be reading along, and there's Archie Goodwin running all around New York City trying to find a phone to call Nero Wolfe with important news. Policemen wait days and days for past information on a possible suspect. When there is anti-nuclear demonstration (nicknamed 'demo' in England), at the start of this book, there is no CCTV to document on film 'whodunnit.' In a later Inspector Banks book, this very CCTV is used by the police to solve the crime. There are some 'new Age' folks who choose not to have a telephone, and so walk miles into the village to use a phone. A typewriter is an important factor late in the book, and I thought to myself that may be one of the biggest changes of all. Remember all the mysteries where the detective could find a criminal based on the particular idiosyncracies of a typewriter? There may be ways to find the truth from opening a criminal's computer hard drive, but no crime will ever be solved based on a piece of typing on a keyboard.
The title comes from the throwing of an I Ching early in the book: "A cautious halt halfway brings good fortune. Going through to the end brings misfortune." On page 25, this doesn't mean much to the reader, but after finishing the book, it fits perfectly. This illustrates one of the things I love about Robinson's writing. He introduces people and events and situations which though small at first glance can be really meaningful. Another aspect which greatly impresses me is the compassion shown for all kinds of people; from those who live an alternative lifestyle to a thoroughly disagreeable fellow policeman. Alan Banks is not perfect himself and perhaps this gives him more empathy and acceptance of others.
The crime to be solved in A Necessary End is who killed a policeman at a demonstration which should have been peaceful, but went out of control. There are so many possibilities and and scenarios that it is quite a baffling case. It is solved in a most satisfactory manner, and with such suspense I didn't get up from my chair for the last many pages. In the first two works, Banks' interest in music is introduced, and in this book his love of certain artists actually opens up conversation with people he must question about the crime. Sometimes he quotes words from a song that mirror the situation or his feelings. I've learned about some new music and enjoyed the mention of some I've long appreciated. These books offer everything I love in a mystery: a strong main character who is human, not superhuman; a strong sense of place - here, the Yorkshire Dales; a strong sense of people and what makes them tick; and a difficult crime to solve. In this year of not buying any books, I'm happy to have three of Peter Robinson's on the shelf. My guess is that my first purchases in 2010 will be several more in this excellent series.
Book one in the series reviewed here. Book two here.