I was scouting around for a new British crime series to start and heard good things about Peter Robinson. So, when I came across this second in the Inspector Banks series, it seemed like fate was telling me to dive in. However, I and my wife both found it a severely disappointing, utterly unimpressive procedural. I can only surmise the series gets better over subsequent volumes, because this is utterly average stuff.
Inspector Banks has recently relocated form London to sleepy rural Yorkshire and is still getting a feel for the lay of the land (following his first case in Gallows View). One day a retired historian turns up dead in a field near the village of Helmthorpe, leaving Banks with an old-fashioned whodunit. Pretty quickly, the stable of suspects is established: his widow (who inherits a nice legacy), his old friend and publisher, his mystery-writing drinking pal, his local GP and drinking pal, a local entrepreneur developer drinking pal, or the local folk singer he may have had a fling with a decade ago?
Like a latter-day Miss Marple, Banks and his plod underlings go back and forth from house to house, interviewing suspects and trying to tease a semblance of motive and opportunity from their statements. Of course, like the old-fashioned constructions of Christie, we are left with lots of semi-plausible motives and seemingly few opportunities. Banks is convinced the answer lies in a fateful summer ten years ago. Meanwhile, a local teenage girl brags about seeing something the night of the murder, placing herself in danger. Will Banks be able to get to the bottom of things before the killer strikes again?!?!?
It's all pretty bland stuff, and gimmick by which the murderer masks themselves is a bit of a groaner. The clues dovetail nicely, and Robinson's done a capable job of constructing a puzzler, but the story and characters are instantly forgettable. The writing is utterly without style or distinction and the Yorkshire setting never really came alive for me. It seemed a kind of generic green and pastoral land with insular people and cure stone cottages. All in all, very little to recommend here.