Peter Robinson Biography
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Castleford, Yorkshire, 1950. Education: University of Ledds, B.A. 1974; University of Windsor, M.A. 1975; York University, Ph.D. 1983. Awards: Arthur Ellis award for Canadian crime novel of the year, 1992.
The Gallows View. Toronto, Viking, 1987; New York, Scribner, 1990.
A Dedicated Man. Toronto, Viking, 1988; New York, Scribner, 1991.
The Hanging Valley. Toronto, Viking, 1989; New York, Scribner, 1992.
A Necessary End. Toronto, Viking, 1990; New York, Scribner, 1992.
Caedmon's Song. Toronto, Viking, 1990.
Past Reason Hated. Toronto, Viking, 1991; New York, Scribner, 1993.
Wednesday's Child. Toronto, Viking, 1992; New York, Berkley, 1995.
Final Account. Toronto, Penguin, 1994; New York, Berkley, andLondon, Constable, 1995.
No Cure for Love. Toronto, Penguin, 1995.
Innocent Graves: An Inspector Banks Mystery. New York, BerkleyPrime Crime, 1996.
Blood at the Root: An Inspector Banks Mystery. New York, AvonBooks, 1997.
In a Dry Season. New York, Avon Twilight, 1999.
Cold Is the Grave. New York, William Morrow, 2000.
Not Safe After Dark and Other Stories. Norfolk, Virginia, Crippen &Landru Publishers, 1998.
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Peter Robinson, who emigrated to Canada in 1974, is best known for his novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks of the Eastvale Criminal Investigation Department, Yorkshire, England. In addition, Robinson has published several non-series novels, among them the psychological thriller Caedmon's Song and a police procedural set primarily in Los Angeles, No Cure for Love. In each case, Robinson combines what might be called "psychological realism," or a focus on character and motivation, with thoughtful cultural commentary, particularly with respect to post-Thatcher England and its susceptibility to the values, tastes, and practices of urban America.
Robinson's Inspector Banks series is built around the character of Alan Banks and the quiet, methodical, and ruminative way in which he sets about solving crimes in the Yorkshire Dales with the assistance of his investigative team. Banks is relatively new to the Dales, having recently transferred from London in search of (ironically, given the number of murders that fall his way) a quieter professional life. He is married to an independent woman he genuinely enjoys and who challenges rather than acquiesces to him. A consummate family man, Banks runs miniature trains for relaxation, relishes his Sunday beef with Yorkshire pudding, and mourns his children's adolescent trajectory away from hearth and home. He enjoys a good working partnership with his superior, Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe, a gritty Yorkshireman who struggles to replicate the ancient technology of dry stone wall-building on his Dales farm. In employing cool logic, honed instinct, and sheer doggedness in pursuing his inquiries, and in avoiding violence for the most part, Inspector Banks is very much the classic police investigator—which is not surprising, given Robinson's acknowledgment of writers like Simenon, Maigret, and Christie as early influences upon his work.
Yet Banks is distinctive in the robust psychological contours that Robinson affords him. A working-class lad who had failed his "eleven plus" exams and barely escaped being shoehorned into a manual trade of little interest to him, Banks is acutely aware of his good luck but also of his lack of formal education. He hungers for knowledge and culture. He loves classical music, especially opera, and crams his home and his mind with the detritus of things he wishes he knew more about—from Dickens and winemaking to bird eggs and local geology. He has an instinct for ferreting out white-collar and class-motivated crime as a result of what Robinson calls a "working-class chip on the shoulder" and exploits what is second nature to him, that sense of cautious distrust that characterizes the perpetual outsider.
Indeed, as "incomer" to fictional Swainsdale (a composite, Robinson says, of the four main Yorkshire Dales), Banks is well positioned to see more clearly than longtime residents both its quixotic regional characteristics, such as the wry taciturnity of those raised in the Dales, and the simultaneous ways in which even remote Yorkshire is being invaded and eroded by the electronic juggernaut that is American popular culture. Tourism has become the main industry in Swainsdale, bringing trailer parks, campsites, snack bars, and tarted-up pubs to a town traditionally known for its ancient cross, its Norman church, and its Roman ruins. Against these relics of earlier invasions of Britain, Banks links the current importation of all things American (from the wearing of expensive hiking gear to the yuppie-style renovations of venerable Dales farmhouses) to an increase in violent crime in the Dales.
Yet the real danger that Banks points to is less the ubiquity of American popular culture and the inevitable urbanization of northern England than the habits and habits of mind that such changes signal. Swainsdale is moments by car from the cities of Leeds, Bradford, and York and no longer immune to the instant pleasures of contemporary city life, from fast food to satellite broadcasts to anonymous sex and its aftermath. Throw-away gratification is certainly an affront to traditional Yorkshire values of perseverance, deferral, and endurance. But the larger danger, Robinson suggests, is the way that electronic or "virtual" cultures increasingly blunt our capacity for thought and, especially, for separating illusion from reality.
In Robinson's novels, as in most crime fiction, it is camouflage, disguise, pretense, or masking that must be penetrated if the mystery is to be solved. The social issues change from novel to novel, and to move from Gallows View to No Cure for Love is to encounter teen crime, marital treachery, class privilege, police brutality, homophobia, child abuse, and organized crime in rapid succession. In the mystery that forms the plot of Innocent Graves, the eighth Inspector Banks novel, the suspects include a priest who may be gay, as well as a college lecturer with a taste for young girls. Blood in the Root draws on drugs, as well as the racial violence between neo-Nazis and Pakistani youth in London. On a personal note for Banks, the novel also sees his separation from his wife, and includes a scene in which he punches his officious superior, Constable Riddle. By the beginning of In a Dry Season, he is despondent, estranged from his children, and hitting the bottle. He finds solace in the arms of his female partner on the police force—and of course there's a mystery in there as well, but the story is at least as much concerned with the development of Banks as a character.
The common element in many of these books is the need—in the face of the many ways that the same thing or same person can be perceived—for a heightened ability to spot the illusion, the sleight-of-hand, that obscures "reality." Robinson's is a conservative vision, just as crime fiction itself is a conservative genre, with its insistence upon "knowing," upon solution and closure. What Robinson's fiction offers, whether in the Banks series or in his non-series novels such as Caedmon's Song, is a certain richness of cultural commentary and moral inquiry. In the face of a contemporary culture that (from a police perspective, at any rate) valorizes glamour and surface and over-tolerates greasy deals and unfettered greed, his fiction celebrates the will to dismember illusion while retaining one's basic decency and humanity—as in the case of the redoubtable Inspector Banks. It is an interesting and challenging response to the tumbling of old certainties that marks our time.
updated by Judson Knight