Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “police procedurals”

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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Friend of the devil — book review

Friend Of The Devil (Inspector Banks, #17)Friend Of The Devil by Peter Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A student is murdered in “The Maze”, a rundown area near the centre of Eastvale, and Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is looking for the killer. His colleague Annie Cabbot, seconded to another division, is called to investigate the murder of a disabled inmate of a home in the coastal town of Whitby. Subsequent investigations reveal links between the two cases, which have historical roots going back to previous cases, and events in described in some of Robinson’s earlier books.

As a police procedural/whodunit it is up to Peter Robinson‘s usual high standards for the most part, though it seemed to get off to a rather shaky start. Having been a student myself, albeit a long time ago, I’m pretty sure that if one of my friends had disappeared after we’d been to pubs in town, we would have been very concerned about it, and would have been anxious to contact the police before they contacted us (though in South Africa in those days we might also have considered the possibility that the police themselves might have been responsible for the disappearance). So there is an air of unreality about the first few chapters of the story, where the friends of the missing student seem quite uncaring, and even after discovering that she was murdered, seem reluctant to get involved.

Though Peter Robinson lives in Canada his books, set in Yorkshire, have generally seemed fairly authentic to me. But in this one I noticed a transatlantic drift. He used “momentarily” in the American sense of “in a moment” rather than the more usual one of “for a moment”, and also used “moot” in a transatlantic sense of “not worth debating” rather than “debatable”. Most notably several of the characters are described as rolling their eyes.

Now it’s quite a long time since I lived in the UK, and for all I know people there may have adopted eye-rolling widely, and similarly the other modes of expression, but it struck me as a bit out of place.

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