Playing with Fire (Inspector Alan Banks Series #14)

Playing with Fire (Inspector Alan Banks Series #14)

3.3 13
by Peter Robinson
     
 

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"In the early hours of a cold January morning, two narrow boats catch fire on the dead-end stretch of the Eastvale Canal." "When signs of accelerant are found at the scene, DCI Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are summoned. But by the time they arrive only the smouldering wreckage is left, and human remains have been found on both boats." "The evidence points towards a… See more details below

Overview

"In the early hours of a cold January morning, two narrow boats catch fire on the dead-end stretch of the Eastvale Canal." "When signs of accelerant are found at the scene, DCI Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are summoned. But by the time they arrive only the smouldering wreckage is left, and human remains have been found on both boats." "The evidence points towards a deliberate attack. But who was the intended victim? Was it Tina, the sixteen-year-old who had been living a drug-fueled existence with her boyfriend? Or was it Tom, the mysterious, lonely artist?" "As Banks makes his enquiries, it appears that a number of people are acting suspiciously: the interfering 'lock keeper', Tina's cold-hearted stepfather, the wily local art dealer, even Tina's boyfriend..." Then the arsonist strikes again and Bank's powers of investigation are tested to the limit.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Although Banks has adapted well to the advanced methods of forensic science (he's a quick study on gas chromatography), his patient and insightful style of detection lends itself more to the art of the personal interview. ''He had a knack for the thrust and parry, or the subtle persuasiveness of a good interrogation,'' writes Robinson, whose own talents in this department account for both the quickness of mind that makes Banks such a keen protagonist and the diversity of tongue that gives the secondary characters -- from inarticulate teenagers to bloviating art experts -- their lively individuality. — Marilyn Stasio
The Washington Post
The Banks novels are a model of dependable professionalism. Given time and a sufficient level of addiction, you could do worse than to seek out four or five and read them straight through. Like Laphroaig and Cassandra Wilson, they satisfy. — Patrick Anderson
Publishers Weekly
Edgar winner Robinson's 14th police procedural to feature Yorkshire DCI Alan Banks isn't quite up to the level of last year's superlative Close to Home, but it's nonetheless an engaging pleasure. Three victims have died in two suspicious fires: Tom McMahon, an eccentric, mostly unsuccessful local artist; Tina Aspern, a young heroin addict estranged from an abusive stepfather; and Roland Gardiner, another down-and-out chap but one who just happens to have a fireproof safe containing a substantial amount of cash and what appears to be a Turner watercolor. To solve the crimes, Banks and his team-DI Annie Cabbot and the refreshingly direct DC Winsome Jackman-pursue good old-fashioned police work, interviewing witnesses, neighbors, relatives and lovers and sifting through the evidence gathered by their specialist colleagues. They also make ample use of contemporary forensic technology. In keeping with the moody and introspective Alan Banks, the narrative style is tempered and deliberate, perhaps too much so for those who prefer, say, the riveting urgency of a Michael Connelly thriller. Characterization is Robinson's real strength. Virtually every character is etched with care, precision and emotional insight. With each book, the quietly competent Alan Banks gets more and more human; like red wine, he gets better and more interesting with age. (Jan. 20) Forecast: A nine-city author tour and a rave from Stephen King, who rarely blurbs these days, can only help solidify the Toronto-based Robinson's niche in the U.S. market. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Among the best British police procedurals published today are entries in Robinson's Inspector Banks series. Not only does each novel feature a complex and intriguing plot set against the harshly beautiful Yorkshire landscape, but each also details the emotional and psychological development of the author's melancholic hero. In this 14th outing, Banks and Annie Cabot, his associate and former lover, investigate an arson fire that destroyed two canal barges and left two charred corpses. Banks and Annie must determine who was the intended victim: Thomas McMahon, a failed artist, or Tina Aspern, a teenaged heroin addict who had fled an abusive stepfather. A second firey death a few days later leads the duo to uncover an art forgery scheme involving the great British painter J.M.W. Turner. Meanwhile, Banks finally confronts his ex-wife, who has given birth to another man's baby, and also grapples with his jealousy over Annie's involvement with an art expert hired to consult on the case. Robinson has once again penned an enthralling read. Strongly recommended for most mystery collections.[Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03.]-Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Everyone in Eastvale, it seems, has something to hide when DCI Alan Banks tackles a nasty case that combines arson and art fraud. The burning of two boats, along with low-flying painter Tom McMahon and druggie Tina Aspern, raises questions right from the start. Which of the rickety barges they were squatting on was the firebug's primary target? And why did Andrew Hurst, the fussy local collector who reported the blaze, bicycle out from his shack to watch it before phoning the firefighters? But Hurst is only the first of a parade of suspicious characters. There's Leslie Whitaker, the used bookseller who piously insists he doesn't know a thing about the Turneresque watercolors Tom was turning out on antique paper he bought from Whitaker. There's Danny Boy Corcoran, Tina's drug connection. There's troubled Mark Siddons, the remorseful day laborer who'd quarreled with Tina and left her alone on the boat, and there's Dr. Patrick Aspern, the chilly stepfather she'd accused of driving her from home by abusing her repeatedly. Even Phil Keane, the London art authenticator who's been dating Banks's colleague and ex-lover DI Annie Cabbot, starts to look suspicious to the jealous Banks. Whom can he trust to tell the truth about this hydra-headed case? As in Close to Home (2003), Robinson's customary insight into the wavering line between normalcy and unblinking evil is intensified by a sins-of-the-fathers fatalism. P.D. James, meet Ross Macdonald. Author tour
(Critic's Choice) - People Magazine
"So vivid that even those who aren’t usually fans of procedural thrillers will fill their fingers burning."
Dennis Lehane
The novels of Peter Robinson are: “Deeply nuanced works of art.”
Stephen King
“The Alan Banks mystery-suspense novels are, simply put, the best series now on the market.”
Nevada Barr
“Stunningly complex and intricately plotted....Peter Robinson fools and entertains me with every twist.”
The Independent(London)
"Cunning…authentic and atmospheric."
Lady - Antonia Fraser
"A happy discovery."
Otto Penzler
“Robinson actually seems to grow in front of our eyes, delivering books of greater complexity each time.”
From the Publisher
"The Alan Banks mystery-suspense novels are, simply put, the best series now on the market. In fact, this may be the best series of British novels since the novels of Patrick O'Brian. Try one and tell me I'm wrong."
— Stephen King

“As astute a writer as P.D. James.”
Library Journal

“From the first paragraph you are hooked.”
Glasgow Evening Times

“Robinson’s seamless melding of crime and character shows [him] at the top of his game.”
Globe and Mail

“A complex, satisfying read. . . . Banks is the quintessential English hero.”
The Observer

“Robinson has won just about every mystery award there is. His latest shows why.”
Booklist (starred review)

“The Banks books just get better and better.”
Calgary Herald

“Robinson is incapable of writing a dull sentence.”
People

Lady Antonia Fraser
“A happy discovery.”
Lady Antonia Fraser in the London Sunday Times
“A happy discovery.”
Time Out London
“Taut, carefully thought out…with plots that are refreshingly cliché-free.”
The Independent (London)
“Cunning…authentic and atmospheric.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Exquisitely complex and atmospheric.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“The equal of legends in the genre such as P.D. James and Ruth Rendell.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Robinson has won just about every mystery award there is….His latest shows why.”
Washington Post
“Smooth as single malt.”
Boston Globe
Peter Robinson is:“A gifted creator of fully fleshed and vividly present characters.”
New York Times Book Review
“[Robinson’s] talents...account for both the quickness of mind that makes Banks such a keen protagonist.”
People (Critic's Choice)
“So vivid that even those who aren’t usually fans of procedural thrillers will fill their fingers burning.”
Daily News
“A taut pleasure.”
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“Crime fiction at its best.”
Houston Chronicle
“A skillful writer…”
London Sunday Times
“Complex and intelligent.”
Tampa Tribune
“Robinson is on a winning streak.”
Montreal Gazette
“Robinson is not just a master storyteller, he’s a literary magician.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Absorbing…Robinson continues to stretch the boundaries of the standard procedural.”
Sunday Telegraph
“Different and intriguing.”
Chicago Tribune
“[PLAYING WITH FIRE] has a loud ring of truth and a good deal of suspense.”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“Splendid.”
People
“So vivid that even those who aren’t usually fans of procedural thrillers will fill their fingers burning.”
Booklist
"Robinson has won just about every mystery award there is….His latest shows why."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780330491617
Publisher:
Gardners Books
Publication date:
11/05/2004
Series:
Inspector Alan Banks Series, #14
Edition description:
New

Read an Excerpt

1

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, burn’d on the water,” Banks whispered. As he spoke, his breath formed plumes of mist in the chill January air.

Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, standing beside him, must have heard, because she said, “You what? Come again.”

“A quotation,” said Banks. “From Antony and Cleopatra.”

“You don’t usually go around quoting Shakespeare like a copper in a book,” Annie commented.

“Just something I remember from school. It seemed appropriate.”

They were standing on a canal bank close to dawn watching two barges smoulder.…

The canal ran through some beautiful countryside, and tonight the usually quiet rural area was floodlit and buzzing with activity, noisy with the shouts of firefighters and the crackle of personal radios. The smell of burned wood, plastic and rubber hung in the air and scratched at the back of Banks’s throat when he breathed in. All around the lit-up area, the darkness of a pre-dawn winter night pressed in, starless and cold. The media had already arrived, mostly TV crews, because fires made for good visuals, even after they had gone out, but the firefighters and police officers kept them well at bay, and the scene was secure….

“Christ, it’s cold,” moaned Annie, stamping from foot to foot. She was mostly obscured by an old army greatcoat she had thrown on over her jeans and polo-neck sweater. She was also wearing a matching maroon woolly hat, scarf and gloves, along with black knee-high leather boots. Her nose was red.

“You’d better go and talk to the firefighters,” Banks said. “Get their stories while events are still fresh in their minds. You never know, maybe one of them will warm you up a bit.”

“Cheeky bastard.” Annie sneezed, blew her nose and wandered off.…

The young constable, who had been talking to the leading firefighter, walked over to Banks and introduced himself: PC Smythe, from the nearest village, Molesby.

“So you’re the one responsible for waking me up at this ungodly hour in the morning,” said Banks.

PC Smythe paled. “Well, sir, it seemed . . . I . . .”

“It’s okay. You did the right thing. Can you fill me in?”

“There’s not much to add, really, sir.” Smythe looked tired and drawn, as well he might. He hardly seemed older than twelve, and this was probably his first major incident.

“Who called it in?” Banks asked.

“Bloke called Hurst. Andrew Hurst. Lives in the old lockkeeper’s house about a mile away. He says he was just going to bed shortly after one o’clock, and he saw the fire from his bedroom window. He knew roughly where it was coming from, so he rode over to check it out.”

“Rode?”

“Bicycle, sir.”

“Okay. Go on.”

“That’s about it. When he saw the fire, he phoned it in on his mobile, and the fire brigade arrived. They had a bit of trouble gaining access, as you can see. They had to run long hoses.”

Banks could see the fire engines parked about a hundred yards way, through the woods, where a narrow lane turned sharply right as it neared the canal. “Anyone get out alive?” he asked.

“We don’t know, sir. If they did, they didn’t hang around. We don’t even know how many people live there, or what their names are. All we know is there are two casualties.”

“Wonderful,” said Banks. It wasn’t anywhere near enough information. Arson was often used to cover up other crimes, to destroy evidence, or to hide the identity of a victim, and if that was the case here, Banks needed to know as much about the people who lived on the barges as possible. That would be difficult if they were all dead. “This lockkeeper, is he still around?”

“He’s not actually a lockkeeper, sir,” said PC Smythe. “We don’t use them anymore. The boat crews operate the locks themselves. He just lived in the old lockkeeper’s house. I took a brief statement and sent him home. Did I do wrong?”

“It’s all right,” Banks said. “We’ll talk to him later.…”

Annie Cabbot joined Banks and Smythe. “The station received the call at one thirty-one a.m.,” she said, “and the firefighters arrived here at one forty-four.”

“That sounds about right.”

“It’s actually a very good rural response time,” Annie said. “We’re lucky the station wasn’t staffed by retained men.”

Many rural stations, Banks knew, used “retained” men, or trained part-timers, and that would have meant a longer wait — at least five minutes for them to respond to their personal alerters and get to the station. “We’re lucky they weren’t on strike tonight, too,” he said, “or we’d probably still be waiting for the army to come and piss on the flames.”

They watched the firefighters pack up their gear in silence as the darkness brightened to grey, and a morning mist appeared seemingly from nowhere, swirling on the murky water and shrouding the spindly trees. In spite of the smoke stinging his lungs, Banks felt an intense craving for a cigarette rush through his system. He thrust his hands deeper into his pockets. It had been nearly six months since he had smoked a cigarette, and he was damned if he was going to give in now.

As he fought off the desire, he caught a movement in the trees out of the corner of his eye. Someone was standing there, watching them. Banks whispered to Annie and Smythe, who walked along the bank in opposite directions to circle around and cut the interloper off. Banks edged back toward the trees. When he thought he was within decent range, he turned and ran toward the intruder. As he felt the cold, bare twigs whipping and scratching his face, he saw someone running about twenty yards ahead of him. Smythe and Annie were flanking the figure, crashing through the dark undergrowth, catching up quickly.

Smythe and Annie were by far the fittest of the three pursuers, and even though he’d stopped smoking, Banks soon felt out of breath. When he saw Smythe closing the gap and Annie nearing from the north, he slowed down and arrived panting in time to see the two wrestle a young man to the ground. In seconds he was handcuffed and pulled struggling to his feet.

They all stood still for a few moments to catch their breath, and Banks looked at the youth. He was in his early twenties, about Banks’s height, five foot nine, wiry as a pipe-cleaner, with a shaved head and hollow cheeks. He was wearing jeans and a scuffed leather jacket over a black T-shirt. He struggled with PC Smythe but was no match for the burly constable.

“Right,” said Banks. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing here?”

The boy struggled. “Nothing. Let me go! I haven’t done anything. Let me go!”

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What People are saying about this

Stephen King
“The Alan Banks mystery-suspense novels are, simply put, the best series now on the market.”
Otto Penzler
“Robinson actually seems to grow in front of our eyes, delivering books of greater complexity each time.”
Lady Antonia Fraser
“A happy discovery.”
Nevada Barr
“Stunningly complex and intricately plotted....Peter Robinson fools and entertains me with every twist.”
Dennis Lehane
The novels of Peter Robinson are: “Deeply nuanced works of art.”

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