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Watching the Dark: An Inspector Banks Novel
by Peter Robinson

watchingthedarkReviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Watching the Dark, the twentieth novel with Alan Banks as the protagonist, takes readers on a trip to Estonia and into the dark world of the slave labor trade across Europe. While the subject matter may be a bit grim, the mysteries to be solved are top notch.

A police officer staying in a rehabilitation facility gets up early to enjoy the peacefulness of the lake on the property while having her morning tea and first cigarette of the day. When she notices what appears to be a pile of rags or abandoned clothing near the water’s edge, her police instincts kick in and she investigates. What she finds is the body of another cop dead with the arrow of a cross bow stuck in him. The victim, Bill Quinn, was a much-decorated officer who had recently lost his wife to cancer. When Banks begins to look into Quinn’s life looking for someone who might have wanted him dead, he found some disturbing photographs in his home files. Less than a week later the body of an Estonian newspaper reporter is found on an abandoned farm. Why the reporter was even in England, to say nothing of in the middle of nowhere is the second mystery Banks must solve. When he decides a trip to Estonia is in order, his commander insists that Joanna Passero, an officer from Professional Standards accompany Banks. Passero is looking for the “bent” cop in the division and it’s clear from the beginning that she suspects Quinn. Banks does not, as devoted readers know, play well with others, so the trip gets off to a rocky start. Meanwhile, Annie Cabot freshly back from rehabilitation (see Bad Boy the nineteenth book in the series), is left in England to continue the Quinn investigation.

There is quite a lot going on case wise in Watching the Shadows– the murder of a fellow officer, the reporter’s murder and the drudging up of a girl’s disappearance six years ago which may well be tied to one or both of the murders. All three investigations are well plotted out and make for an engrossing read. But there is quite a bit of other, behind the scenes personal things going on as well, and some of that really slows the pace of the book down and makes it a little hard to keep track of what is going on in the mystery part. This is partially due to there being a large roster of characters who are fairly important to the solution of the mysteries. Many of them have some sort of back story which the author needs to fill in for readers. Annie Cabot’s return after her injuries in the previous book filled a lot of space as the basic framework of that event was rehashed. But the biggest problem I felt was the inner thoughts-the self-pondering of so many things by Banks as he investigates Quinn and travels to Estonia. Of course readers like to know what the detective is thinking, but often these passages slowed the story to a near stop.

Robinson fans will most probably be pleased with Watching the Dark. The three cases and the investigation into them is one of the best in the series. Readers who have not read any of the series before should have no problem following the story as enough of the back story is presented to give readers the basics. But the telling of that back story might be put some off because of the wordiness in some parts of the book.

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