An extended Reading the Bestsellers review of this 2023 book by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, 2023. 368 pages. $22 (e-book $17, audio $39)
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We live in a world that has much to offer. But amid the beauty, generosity and love, there is a great deal of avarice, resentment and hate. The complex reality that almost no one is all good or all bad is profoundly evident in the novels of Peter Robinson, including Standing in the Shadows, his final book, published in the spring of 2023.
Over 28 novels and 36 years DCI Alan Banks, a London cop transferred to a fictional town in Yorkshire, England has been shown to be a very complex person. An imperfect man with many regrets, burdened by the injustice he has seen in his own life as well as in his job, he seeks justice and fairness above all else. And he knows that truth and lies are not always opposites.
In Gallow’s View, published in 1987, readers met a 30-something Banks who was happily married and the father of two. But Banks aged over the years and his world reflected both the passage of time and the changes in the world. In the final book, he’s nearing retirement age, has been divorced for many years, is having to deal with the death of a close friend and is thrust into what is essentially a cold case.
As in all the novels, Bank’s love of music plays a role, as do events in the world and how they impact not only Banks but other people as well.
Not for the first time, Robinson chose to tell two stories in Standing in the Shadows – the current crime investigation and events surrounding an earlier crime. The novel begins in November 1980 with the murder of a young college student in a rooming house. The next chapter jumps to November 2019, when an archaeologist uncovers a skeleton and Banks is asked to investigate. The story continues to alternate between the two timelines.
Whether intentional or not, the structure of the book also reminds us Alan Banks would have been roughly the age of the college students in 1980. We’re also reminded Banks was a man who stuck with his family, friends and team in spite of their faults; and one who desired truth rather than expedience and came to realize that perfect justice is rare.
Author Peter Robinson died on Oct. 4, 2022, at the age of 72 after a brief illness.
Born and raised in Yorkshire, England, Robinson earned an honours degree in English literature at the University of Leeds. In 1974 he emigrated to Canada, where he earned an MA in English and creative writing at the University of Windsor and a PhD in English at York University. He settled in Toronto, where he met his wife, lawyer Sheila Halladay, and taught at colleges and universities in the area. The couple also made regular trips to England.
Robinson’s debut Banks novel was short-listed for the Crime Writers of Canada best first novel award in 1988. Since then, Robinson’s books and short stories have won seven CWC Arthur Ellis Awards for best novel as well as numerous awards from other countries.
His books have been translated into 24 different languages and were used as the basis for a British television series that ran from 2011 to 2017.
In 2020 Crime Writers of Canada gave him the Grand Master Award “to recognize a Canadian crime writer with a substantial body of work who has garnered national and international recognition.”
Beginning in 2024 and for the next five years, the Arthur Ellis Award will be renamed the Peter Robinson Award for Best Crime Novel.
Fans of Robinsons’ books will want to read Standing in the Shadows to see what has happened to Banks and the members of his team as well as to complete the series (InspectorBanks.com). New readers might be best to read the books in order. While they are considered standalone police procedurals, each one is also a unique reflection of the times. Reader discretion is advised as some of his novels deal realistically (but not sensationally) with ugly crimes such as human trafficking.
Ultimately, the series tells the journey of the man who, despite having to deal with the worst of people, manages to become the best version of himself.
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