Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Bad boy

Bad Boy (Inspector Banks, #19)Bad Boy by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read most of Peter Robinson’s detective novels featuring Alan Banks (now Detective Chief Inspector or DCI), and enjoyed them all. This one stands out as being better than most.

It’s a police procedural rather than a whodunit, so you get to know fairly quickly who the villains are. The plot turns on how the police go about catching them and getting enough evidence to make a charge stick.

It won’t be a spoiler to say that in this one the plot turns on how DCI Banks’s daughter gets involved with one of the villains, and gets in over her head. It tells you that on the front cover: “A policeman’s daughter should know better.”

So the reader is not kept guessing about the identity of the bad guys. What is left as an exercise for the reader is the moral issue of the use of firearms by criminals and the police. This has bean a contentious issue, especially since the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005.

Peter Robinson does tend to bring such issues into his novels, and some other social issues are not absent from this one as well — the position of gay, black or female officers in the British police, for example, and relatively new crimes like people trafficking.

But the main issue here is the use of firearms by the police, and the procedures for controlling that use. I’ve noticed that in news stories about crime in the UK one increasingly sees images of armed and armoured police, intimidating Darth Vader-like figures, running around shouting at people with weapons ready to be fired. Here one gets a glimpse of how such things are ordered and controlled, and how things can go wrong.

One of the things I like about Robinson’s books is the way in which they compel the reader to try to exercise moral judgement. I know it’s fiction, “just a novel”, but I wonder whether, if South African policemen read books like this, we might have avoided events like the Marikana Massacre.

The book is not moralising, or morally didactic in the sense of the author telling people what to think. Rather he stimulates the reader to think about moral issues.

From the broad sweep of moral judgement, I descend to the level of nit-picking about Robinson’s use of language.

Peter Robinson was born and brought up in Yorkshire, where the novels are set, but he has lived for many years in Canada, and I wonder if he had perhaps lost touch a little.

Robinson rather selfconsciously draws attention to one of the senior police officials using American slang in referring to one of the villains as a “scumbag”.

But he passes over, without comment, one of them using “momentarily” in its American sense of “in a moment” rather than “for a moment”.

I would have thought that “scumbag”, though it may have originated in the USA, has become fairly universal by now, and is therefore unremarkable. It does not surprise me that a British policeman would
use the term.

But it would surprise me if a British police officer used “momentarily” in its American sense. It is a far more remarkable use of American slang than “scumbag”.

Or have I missed something?

Has the US slang use of “momentarily” spread not only to Canada, but to the UK as well?

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