Monday, February 1, 2010

P is for Peter Robinson and THE PRICE OF LOVE

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "P".

Although there are a few Kiwi crime writers starting with P (at least first-name wise, e.g. Paddy Richardson, Paul Cleave), as I’ve covered them quite extensively in profile form on this blog already, I thought I’d head abroad and feature another crime writer, and book, that I have recently read: Toronto-based Peter Robinson and his collection of short stories, THE PRICE OF LOVE.

Robinson was born and grew up in Yorkshire, England (where he sets his famous DCI Banks series of novels). He moved to Canada to study for an MA in English and Creative Writing (he had famous novelist Joyce Carol Oates as his tutor), then completed a PhD, and has largely lived and worked (both as a full-time novelist and earlier on by teaching at a variety of community colleges and universities) in the Toronto area since.

Robinson’s debut novel in 1987, GALLOWS VIEW, introduced a main character that would go on to appear in 19 novels (and counting) and several short stories over the next two decades-plus; Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

Banks lives and works in the fictional Yorkshire town of Eastvale. His wife left him and remarried, although they are still linked by two children. Banks is known for his taste in music, and ability to relate to suspects and victims.

Robinson has won several awards for his novels and short stories (including Arthur Ellis, Macavity, Barry, Edgar and CWA Dagger awards), and been regularly shortlisted for many, many more. The tenth Inspector Banks novel, IN A DRY SEASON, won the Anthony and Barry awards for Best Novel and was nominated for the Edgar, Hammett, Macavity and Arthur Ellis Awards. It also won France’s Grand Prix de Litt√©rature Polici√®re and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award, and was a New York Times “notable book” of 1999.

Robinson’s latest book, THE PRICE OF LOVE, released late last year, is a collection of short stories, along with a brand-new DCI Banks novella (“Like a Virgin”). The novella tells of how Banks came to Yorkshire, leaving behind a promising police career in London and hauling his family along for what has turned out to be a couple of decades in Eastvale. His thoughts return to his London past by the reopening, as a cold case, of his last investigation there. A young sex-trade worker is found, not only murdered but arranged after death in a pose of innocent virtue, fully dressed and with her makeup scrubbed off. A vice squad colleague puts Banks on to the young woman's powerful pimp, a property developer who runs strip clubs, but before the investigation into his activities gets very far, another young woman's body is found, arranged just like the first one's. More deaths follow, the case is eventually closed to general if slightly uneasy satisfaction, Banks moves to Yorkshire and years pass -- until DNA developments and old suspicions combine to re-open the long-ago but unforgotten London case.

Robinson is an accomplished short story writer, having contributed to several acclaimed collections, edited some crime short story collections himself, and won several awards over the years. Apart from the new DCI Banks novella, the other stories in THE PRICE OF LOVE (two of which also feature DCI Banks) are:

- “Cornelius Jubb”
- “The Magic of Your Touch”
- “The Eastvale Ladies’ Poker Circle”
- “The Ferryman’s Beautiful Daughter”
- “Walking the Dog”
- “Blue Christmas”
- “Shadows on the Water”
- “The Cherub Affair”
- “The Price of Love” and
- “Birthday Dance.”

The nine stories veer from the First World War to present day, from police procedural to noir to touches of horror, and from Robinson’s childhood home of Yorkshire to his modern-day abode in Toronto (and several places in between). In “Cornelius Jubb” a black US soldier is accused of rape while stationed in WWII Yorkshire; in “The Magic of Your Touch” a jazz musician pays a heavy price for unearned success; in “Blue Christmas” Banks investigates a crime other than murder.

In his introduction, Robinson notes that: “Most of the stories in this collection were written at the request of one editor or another. I know that sounds rather mercenary, and that, in the Romantic view of art, the writer is supposed to work from pure inspiration. But I think of the stories as challenges, and sometimes a challenge can bring out the best in person, or at least it can bring to the surface something he didn’t know he had, something he hadn’t explored before. And that is very much the case in this collection… some of these requests for stories opened up new directions for me, took me places I would not normally have gone, and forced me to dig deep into areas where I might never have ventured left to my own devices.”

The collection has received some pretty good reviews. You can read the Globe and Mail review here. In my own review for the current (February) issue of Australian books magazine, Good Reading, I said: “Despite the range, and the way in which Robinson ‘experiments’ with different things in some of the stories (as he explains in the afternotes), The Price of Love is a cohesive collection with few weak points. Readers will prefer different stories depending on their own tastes, rather for any glaring quality reasons. An enjoyable read that you can dip into, story by story, at your leisure.”

Have you read Peter Robinson’s novels or short stories? Are you a fan of DCI Alan Banks? Do you like reading crime fiction short story collections as well as full-length novels? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. I've only read two of Peter Robinson's novels and am currently reading his short story collection Not Safe After Dark. I like what I've read of his work. As you say some of his short stories have weak points and I do prefer novels to short stories generally anyway. I've jumped in to reading the DCI Banks books in the middle and think it would have been better to start with the first one, maybe.

  2. I've been thinking about finding this one Craig. Thanks for the review, and for contributing to Crime Fiction Alphabet.
    Saw your latest contributions to Good Reading Guide too. You are a busy reader/reviwer