Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson

past reason hated

When Caroline Hartley is discovered savagely murdered in her living room, an LP record of Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri sung by Magda Kalmar is playing, set on repeat. The victim had never liked classical music and her partner claims she had never seen the record before.

Where did the record come from? Why was it playing? Did it have any significance to the murder?

Banks walked back to the window and lit a cigarette. What the hell was it about the music that bothered him? Why did it have to mean something? He would find out as much as he could about Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri

It’s been a while since I read one of Robinson’s DCI Banks books, and this one has been a welcome change from the “True Crime” I’ve been reading recently. It was good to get back to a story with an element of the unknown, a “page-turner” that I could read without knowing the outcome before I started, and also have the “comfort” of knowing that it wasn’t portraying the crimes and resulting suffering of real people.

This is the fifth of the DCI Banks books and its not a coincidence that the majority of crime books I’ve been reading are parts of various series. Most of them have been more than merely crime mysteries and their resolution. In the best of them the returning characters grow and develop through their experiences.

While Past Reason Hated was a “good read”, it wasn’t free of problems.

The book was first published in 1991, and I think like some of the previous Banks books, the writing shows its age.
For example, I’m not sure that a description of

“groups of female office workers [laughing] about the way the mailroom boys hands had roamed during the office party”

stands up very well almost 30 years later.

Also, the book’s opening scenes, at wedding reception, include excerpts  of  what used to be known as “rugby songs” – crude, often misoginistic ditties associated with men’s sporting teams. Again this tended to add an out-dated feel to the book.

And annoyingly, Robinson also revisits an earlier facination with breasts – this time when Banks visits a Soho night club with topless barmaids.
In more recent books (not part of this series) those “dated” elements aren’t there – or are not as noticeable

As a contrast, the book also visits territory that would have had a different political charge to it  almost 30 years ago, before LGBTIQA+ became a fashionable, ever expanding acronym.
Two of the major characters , including the murder victim were lesbians, and other characters express an assortment of attitudes towards them, some of which wouldn’t be acceptable in current western secular societies, but  the narrative itself leans more towards a live and let live attitude.

One thing made clear in all of Robinson’s work is his deep and eclectic love of music. Alan Banks shares that love and throughout the books references are made to various pieces of music, of many genres, that he plays while driving or walking.  Part of the pleasure beyond the books is tracking down examples of the tracks Banks plays.

 

The video above is one part of the recording playing at the murder scene.
It is based upon Psalm 112.

Psalm 112
Praise the LORD.
Blessed are those who fear the LORD,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

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Pietr the Latvian, by Georges Simenon

pietrInspector Maigret receives notification from the International Criminal Police Commission, an organisation that “oversees the struggle against organised crime in Europe”, that Pietr the Latvian has been sighted boarding a train heading for Paris, Maigret’s own territory.

Maigret waits at the station, equipped with a detailed description to help him recognise his target as he leaves the train. His stakeout is disrupted when a body, suffering a gunshot wound, is found on the train.
Is the victim the Latvian himself? Or could he be the victim of the man Maigret was seeking?

My introduction to Georges Simenon’s Maigret was through a recent TV programme with Rowan Atkinson playing the Paris detective, in what must be his most understated performance, showing his talent isn’t restricted to the often slapstick comedy of Mr Bean and Johnny English.

I came across this book in an almost hidden book warehouse in Canberra, where they had large numbers of more than a dozen different Maigret titles all priced quite cheaply.

I decided to buy the first two books in the Maigret series, Pietr the Latvian being the first, to see whether I liked them enough to buy more.

These books are different to the rest of my crime reading over the past year, being more of a “classic” – this one being written in 1930 originally in French, requiring a reading in translation.

I suppose one of the problems with translated works is the anglicisation of some terminology, or using an approximate British equivalent when describing something specifically French. I may be wrong to have such a response, but I found the first sentence of the book a little jarring when it referred to “Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Flying Squad” (my italics). It made me think of Denis Waterman and cockney accents from the old TV series The Sweeny.*

I’m not sure what I expected of my first experience with an almost 90 year old Inspector Maigret book. I’ve read “old” crime fiction (Agatha Christie) in the distant past, and knew the style would be different to the more modern stories I’ve been reading. I think the tone of the TV series also set the scene a little; very even, downplayed, almost drab – avoiding any hint of melodrama or heightened emotion. And that is how the story started, with a matter of fact depiction of Maigret following up a run of the mill case.

And then about halfway in, an event happens that releases the emotional restraints a little, as Maigret is left in no doubt of the seriousness of his investigation and the dangers it entails. I’d like to provide an example of the very vivid but controlled prose associated with that event, but wouldn’t be able to do so without resorting to “spoilers”. One thing I try to avoid when writing about a book is giving anything away that would rob other readers of  any surpises.

Overall, that section was the highlight of the book.

At times the story confused me. At other times its credibility lapsed.

Maigret not only followed the prime suspect, he continually made his own presence obvious. At one time sitting directly opposite his suspect, at the the same table, in a hotel dining room.

The story’s denouement adequately resolves a lot of the puzzles revealed earlier in the story, but I was disappointed with the path leading up to that conclusion.

At least I have Simenon’s second Maigret book, so I’ll have the chance to see if I find his story telling improved, and afterwards can decide whether I want to continue with the series beyond that second book.

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* From cockney rhyming slang, Sweeny Todd = Flying Squad.

 

White Nights, Ann Cleeves

White NightsShetland is an excellent TV series; one of my favourites. My interest in crime fiction was strongly influenced by it.

While watching the first series I was drawn to the  novels by Ann Cleeves upon which the series was based.

The TV version features Jimmy Perez, a detective whose life is complicated by a late-teen stepdaughter, Cassie.
One of the additional pleasures of Cleeves’ books is that they depict Perez when he first meets Cassie’s mother, Fran an artist, and Cassie is still a young girl. The two formats therefore cover a wider time period and because I saw the TV version first, the books seem to provide a backstory to the series.

White Nights starts with Perez’s first real date with Fran, at an exhibition of her art. That night out then leads to the discovery of a murder victim in shed near to the gallery.

This all happens mid-summer, within a period known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”, when the sun never really sets, resulting in a lingering half-light instead of a normal night darkness.

The thing I like most about this book is the depth of character, its vivid portrayal of landscape, and the journey it gives into Shetland life.

In my opinion, the richness throughout the book almost makes the concluding solution of the crime irrelevant. It’s not a book that puts all of its eggs into the “who-dunnit-basket”.

For me the resolution of a crime novel works best when the guilty party is revealed and the reader can then see how obvious that person’s guilt was – despite having not having seen it throughout the rest of the book. With White Nights, while  I found the conclusion plausible, I seem to have missed clues and reasoning  within the rest of the book, therefore for me it lacked that ultimate, satisfying, “of course, how could I have missed that” reaction.

 

The Shrouded Path

the-shrouded-pathI discovered Sarah Ward at a good time: when she’d only published two books.

That made it easier to start at the beginning of her work and not fall behind in my reading as new books were released. Since that initial discovery, she has added two more volumes to her DC Childs series.

In each of Ward’s books a crime in the present has links to events in the past.

Ward refers to this in a recent article.

My crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peaks usually have two timelines. I’m fascinated by crimes which have a long gestation, old hurts that simmer away for years, even decades, until they explode into violence.

http://www.crimetime.co.uk/sarah-wards-the-shrouded-path-what-is-it-about-the-1950s/

In the same article Ward says this about her most recent book:

…in The Shrouded Path. Six girls walk into a railway in the 1950s and only five emerge. The act of violence which takes place in the tunnel has reverberations up to the present day

The sense of time and place is what continues to draw me to Ward’s books. Those elements are common traits of the crime fiction I want to read and is why Ward is among a group of favoured authors I’ve been reading.

Silent Voices

silent voicesAnn Cleeves is one of the authors responsible for starting my crime fiction interest.

She is also a significant reason that my interest has continued.

In Silent Voices, DCI Vera Stanhope finds that following her doctor’s health advice gives her a personal encounter with death.
After swimming for exercise in a local health club, she discovers a woman’s body in the steam room.

She opened her eyes and shot a jealous glance at the woman in the corner. The steam seemed less thick and Vera saw that she was middle-aged rather than elderly. Short curly hair, a plain blue costume. Slender, with long, shapely legs. Only then, as a hidden draught cleared the mist again, did Vera realize that her companion was too still and her skin too pale. The object of Vera’s envy was dead.

Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope and Shetland books deliver much more than intriguing page-turning criminal investigations; their main appeal to me is the way she develops her story and supports the plot through character and landscape.

I’m not a frequent re-reader of books, but I suspect I could easily return to Cleeves’ work at some time, even if the crime aspect would no longer be a mystery.

But until then I still have the pleasure ahead of me of reading most of them for the first time.

2 + 2 = Variety

Two books plus two films, a diversity of genres and forms, with little in common: all in a weekend’s “work”.

caedmonOn Saturday I finished the last 30 or 40 pages of Peter Robinson’s Caedmon’s Song.
Kirsten is making her way home after celebrating the completion of her studies at a northern university. She wakes in hospital after suffering a horrific attack.
As the months pass, during her slow recovery, several young students are murdered, presumably by the same attacker.
There is pressure to break through the suppression of her memories of her own attack, in the hope of identifying the man and bring his killing to an end.

Alongside Kirsten’s story the book also follows Martha Browne, visiting the northern coastal town of Whitby, claiming to be researching a book, but keen to keep to herself as she plans for some kind of mission aided by her “spirit guides”.

Robinson said that the book was partly inspired by the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, and the question of how a surviving victim of a serial killer might respond to their survival and recovery.

lady Later on Saturday I started reading Lady in Waiting another book that alternates between two stories. In the present day Jane Lindsay is struggling with the seeming breakdown of her marriage, when her husband takes a job in a another city.
In the past there is the story of Lucy Day, a young seamstress working for Lady Jane Grey.

The two stories are brought together by the discovery of a ring hidden in the spine of a centuries old prayer book bought as stock for Jane’s antique shop.
The title “Lady in Waiting”, could be applied to Jane Lindsay, waiting for her husband’s return to the marriage; to Lucy Day, waiting on her Lady Jane; or to Lady Jane herself, waiting to find out the future planned for her by her family.

I’ve had a five decade interest in Lady Jane Grey since I read or heard about her as a pre-teen in the late 1960s. She is the forgotten first Queen of England, whose reign lasted just over a week.
She was the chosen successor of the Protestant Edward VI who wanted to deny his Roman Catholic sister Mary from taking the throne after his death. Jane, Edward’s cousin, was an educated and devout Christian in regular correspondence with leading protestant theologians in Europe.

Mary’s military support made Jane’s position untenable and Jane was executed on Mary’s orders early the following year, at the age of 16.

Swallows_and_Amazons_(2016_film)Swallows and Amazons is a classic children’s book that I’ve never had the opportunity to read.
A year or two ago I started to watch an old film version of the story, but lost interest only half an hour in.

On Saturday Gloria bought this new version on DVD, A wonderful film in which the Walker children face dangers, imagined and real, during a holiday in the Lake District of northern England.
They sail their boat “Swallow” to a an island to camp out for the night, but find the island has already been claimed by the “Amazons”, a group of locals.

As the rivalry between the Swallows and the Amazons intensifies, they find themselves being drawn to work together to face a more serious, common enemy.

Set in the 1930s, it s story that wouldn’t translate to a present day setting, where children would be discouraged from pursuing risky outdoor adventure, even if they could be torn away from the digital adventures pursued in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

 

downsizingDownsizing is another film Gloria found on Saturday morning.
I wasn’t really interested in seeing it, and almost halfway into the film I was wondering why I’d bothered.

As the human population increases the harm it does to the planet, scientists discover a way to “downsize” people and animals – basically shrink them to a fraction of their natural size.
This is seen as a potential life-saver for the planet. Reduce the population in size and reduce the consumption of resources as well as reduce the resulting waste footprint.

The major enticement to encourage potential recruits for the project is the promise of more affluent lives in custom made small communities. Current basic finances convert to the equivalent of millions of dollars in a community where a few metres of land are the equivalent of several acres when the scale difference is taken into account and the “downsized” people can live in mansions that would previously been the size of a doll house.

The first part of the film concentrates on the wonders associated with the downsizing opportunities, using some interesting special effects to show the interaction between people of vastly different scales. Downsizing is presented as a favourable option with no down-side; apart from one or two hints that its outcome may not fully be what it is presented to be.

There are occasional hints of political unrest – with questions being raised about the legal rights of downsized people. They consume so little, and therefore contribute so much less to a consumer driven society, so should they have equal voting rights?
And it becomes clear that downsizing can be misused and abused by Governments as well as by less than honourable corporate groups.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, who, along with his wife, choose to downsize. Safranek soon finds that he may have made a mistake in making that irreversible choice.

As I said, after half of the film I was wondering about the point of it all, but then the film took a significant turn. That change came about with the introduction of a Vietnamese character, Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau.
She gives the film a spark it was lacking and brings it to life, a Jesus worshipping woman devoted to serving the less fortunate.
Through her Safranek starts to see another side to the downsizing programme. Alongside the advertised affluence, there is a hidden world of poverty, making their new world no different to the one they’d chosen to leave behind, where affluence is enjoyed at the expense of many who are usually unnoticed.

It is a clear film of two halves. The second part turned it from something self-indulgently forgettable into something thought provokingly memorable. It’s something that has stayed with me since I saw it on Saturday evening.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Belinda-Bauer-300x482

Blacklands was Belinda Bauer’s first book, through which she became an accidental crime writer. *

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book she writes:

Blacklands was never intended to be a crime novel. I thought it was going to be a very small story about a boy and his grandmother.

12 year old Steven Lamb’s life is dominated by his uncle Billy, even though the two never met. Billy didn’t live to enter his teens. He fell victim to a paedophile serial killer long before Steven was born.

Steven’s small family lives with his grandmother who regularly stands at the window, looking through it as if still waiting for her son Billy to come home.

Steven reasons that the dysfunction within his family, the lack of expressed love and warmth, has been caused not only by grief over Billy’s murder, but because his body was never discovered.

Steven is determined to put things to right by finding his uncle’s remains. He sets out with map and spade onto the nearby Exmoor, but it’s a project hampered by scale, having no clue where it would be best to dig.

That’s something only one person knows for sure, Arnold Avery, the man guilty of Billy’s murder.

Steven starts a surreptitious correspondence with Avery, trying to learn the secret of Billy’s grave, instigating a disturbing interaction between the two.

Bauer tells the story from the points of view of Steven and Avery. Each of them have far different reasons for continuing the correspondence, but the shared focus on Billy’s murder and burial has consequences Steven couldn’t have imagined.

One piece of writing advice that I picked up from somewhere regarding the construction of a short story, was that if you include a description of a gun early in the story, that gun has to be used before the end of it. In other words, particularly in short form writing, don’t clutter the story with unnecessary detail – make everything is pertinent.

Blacklands is not a short story, but Bauer seems to follow that advice throughout the book. There are so many colourul little details introduced that could have been  legitiamtely put aside after they’ve added dimension to a character, but instead they become vital, active elements later .

I didn’t need to find yet another author to follow, but this book has made me add Bauer’s work to my growing list of books to read.

Her most recent novel Snap has been longlisted for this year’s Man-Booker Prize.

 

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*

It wasn’t until a lunch to sign a contract with her publisher, Transworld, that Bauer learned she was all set for a career as a crime novelist. “We were sitting in this posh restaurant with a contract between us and [her editor] hands me a pen and says: ‘Just tell us what your second book is going to be about.’ I said: ‘It’s going to be about these two children in a spaceship,’ and she took the contract away, whoop, like that tablecloth trick. And she said: ‘No, it has to be a crime novel.’ I was floored – I had no idea how publishing worked, because I’d always done such diverse scripts as a screenwriter. I literally had to make it up there at the table,” says Bauer.

So, having “never read anything that was actually marketed as a crime book”, she started out as a crime writer on “possibly a different footing to someone who was immersed in the genre”.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/10/belinda-bauer-interview-man-booker-prize-longlist-snap