(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Most of Peter Robinson’s novels are set in the fictional market town of Eastvale, in Yorkshire. His detective, Chief Inspector Alan Banks, formerly of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, has taken a job in a presumably quieter place with less prevalent and dramatic crime. Banks learns immediately that the job pressures are just as great despite the tranquil setting. Instead of having time to reflect on his life and to recoup from the hectic, fast-paced existence that threatened to unnerve him, he finds himself again at the core of turbulence and in the midst of bad people who do bad things as well as essentially good people who are driven to commit criminal acts.

Robinson’s stories usually start with a corpse found in some distinctive part of the Yorkshire countryside or its environs. Then Inspector Banks goes to work, using his journalistic approach to crime solving, which seeks the answers to the five w’s and an h: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Banks methodically delves into the dead person’s past, learning all he can about friends, family, neighbors, and the tenor of the times. He walks the streets, visits homes, confers with colleagues, and frequents the pubs with the locals. Many a clue emerges from a night of sampling local brews and old favorites. Banks’s cases are solved—although not all the criminals are always brought to justice—in jigsaw fashion, with starts and misses until the final pieces fit together.

Robinson says that he used to think quite a bit of his personality was reflected in Alan Banks until he began a closer examination of the inspector. Although, for example, they share the same interests in music, they went on separate paths in their late teens. In one of many revealing interviews, Robinson makes it clear that Banks has become a living entity. The author says that, in contrast to Banks, he is not as “temperamentally suited to deal with the officiousness” of such people as Bank’s superior Detective Chief Inspector Jeremiah Riddle. If Robinson were involved in a conflict with his supervisor, he would most likely quit the job. He concedes that Banks is “more physically astute, . . . [a] little scrapper, . . . not afraid of getting down and dirty.”

Robinson admits that he hates violence and gore, which perhaps accounts for his declining of invitations to sit in on autopsies to add greater authority to his writing. Most of the novels’ despicable acts occur offstage. He does not believe that a graphic accounting of bloody acts is always necessary; however, when he feels that it is essential for the plot, he does not spare the details.

The Hanging Valley

In The Hanging Valley, Robinson describes a gruesome scene involving the discovery of the body of a murder victim, hidden by rocks, with the head smashed beyond recognition, infested with maggots, and surrounded by flies. Robinson describes the corpse’s face gone but moving, the “flesh . . . literally crawling,” the maggots “wriggling under his clothes [making] it look as if the body were rippling like water in the breeze.” Robinson felt that these details were integral to the plot and used his narrative skills to bring the moment to disgusting life. In a less repulsive passage, one very telling of the essence of British life, he describes the typical English breakfast,...

(The entire section is 1383 words.)