Thursday, February 26, 2009

Take this review with a grain of salt...

Friend of the Devil (Inspector Alan Banks)
by Peter Robinson

Why do I say that? Because I did something I never do--I jumped into the middle of a long-established series without reading any of the prior books. And it was really obvious that I'd missed a lot. It was almost as if the novel's strengths had become weaknesses for me. The characters were so complex that I couldn't catch up on their history through a few paragraphs of exposition. Likewise, the British setting was so realistic that I found myself struggling to figure out the police officers' jobs and hierarchy, as well as to decipher the meaning of slang and pop culture references. I feel so American, LOL.

The novel has two protagonists. Annie Cabbott is a homicide detective in crisis. Her current state does not make her especially likeable, and I find myself wondering how she became the mess she is. Currently she's on temporary loan to another city, taking her away from familiar surroundings. Personally, she's drinking like a fish and having ill-advised sexual liaisons. Professionally, she's investigating the murder of a presumably harmless, helpless quadriplegic. Although, as my phrasing suggests, there's more to the case than first meets the eye.

The other major character is Alan Banks. Where Annie is in crisis, Alan is at a turning point. He is also investigating a homicide, a violent sex crime with a 19-year-old victim. The narrative jogs back and forth between the investigations of these two cases, which was a little challenging at times. It's a lot of names and details to keep track of. And being a somewhat more realistic procedural, you really get a feel for the frustration and drudgery of looking at the same clues, statements, and details over and over, trying to see something new. Trying to find a new trail to follow. Trying to see what you've previously missed.

Eventually, it begins to seem that these two disparate cases may be linked somehow. I was gratified that the author didn't rely on too improbable a coincidence to explain this. The resolutions to the crimes were both sad and satisfying. The novel ended quite abruptly after the murders had been solved, leaving me wanting a little more dénouement. And as challenging as it had been to figure out the characters' past based on clues in the text, I was left very much wanting to know what would happen to them next. While I doubt I'll invest the effort into reading a lengthy backlist, I have a feeling I may be reading the next book in this series. What more can an author ask; I appear to be hooked.
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