Two derelict canal boats are destroyed by fire in the dark hours of the night. Firefighters find a body on each boat, squatters who had been living there illegally. Detective Inspector Alan Banks uncovers enough suspicious evidence to determine that the arson cases are also murder. The police catch a man fleeing from the scene, who turns out to be the boyfriend of a junkie named Tina who had escaped a horrible home life. She is one of the deceased.
The other boat held a reclusive artist, and as the police dig into his life they find that he may have been involved in some shady dealings. When another fire occurs a few days later, resulting in the death of another man, Banks is sure that the fires and deaths are connected. As he and his fellow officers sift through the clues, they find ties to the art community and the possibility of forgery. Can they find the identity of the arsonist before he kills again?
This is the first Inspector Banks book I have read by Peter Robinson, but now I am anxious to read the other books in this series. Obviously, it would be better to read the others first to get a background on the characters, but I did not feel reading this one first detracted from Playing With Fire at all. The reader gets a sense of the characters, especially Inspector Banks and detective Annie Cabot. Both are dedicated to their jobs and work diligently to find the perpetrator of the crimes before the killer harms others. There is an undercurrent of tension from a failed relationship between the two which makes their conversations intriguing.
I have long been a fan of British police procedurals, and Mr. Robinson compares very favorably to my favorite author Elizabeth George. The characters have long standing relationships, developed from novel to novel, and readers can form their own connection with the characters. The plot moves at a meandering pace, slowly doling out clues at the right intervals so that the reader can discover the identity of the culprit at the same time as the police. It is a definite page-turner, and the reader will be surprised at who the murderer turns out to be.
Mystery lovers will be delighted in this newest offering from Peter Robinson. Playing With Fire has all of the intense and suspenseful elements necessary for a grand scale thriller.