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Book Review: Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson

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As is his style, Peter Robinson wastes little time getting a reader into the storyline of Friend of the Devil. A couple pages to set the general scene, and then the action begins, usually slowly, but inexorably, and hooking you. No chance of escape after the first few pages. A bonus was learning what ginnel and snicket mean.

Halfway through the first book by Peter Robinson I read, I went to the library and requested all his other books. Some of them they had to get sent over from other libraries, so I ordered the first four, hoping they’d come in close to being in order, since I wanted to see the development of both the author and the characters in proper order. I managed to get them all in within a couple of days, and so I was able to read them chronologically, and I’ve read every one since.

I had achieved, however, my goals of seeing the development of author and characters. Here, in Robinson’s seventeenth book, his style is fully developed, and his usual characters are matured in both themselves and their roles in his books. Even though some of the characters have appeared in many of Robinson’s earlier novels, you can easily read this as a stand-alone book. If you like this book — and I can guarantee you will, so long as you like crime/detective/procedural police novels — then you, too, can go back and read his earlier ones. And if, like me, you re-read the novel you started with, your comprehension of the cast of usual characters will increase and expand. If you decide not to re-read his earlier novels, then you still will have read an excellent novel.

What I’m going to tell you about this book is straight up. No lies or exaggerations, but perhaps a little hyperbole, and I’ll give away a few morsels, but not enough to spoil the read.

Robinson’s protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, is a middle-aged, divorced, sometimes bitter, often optimistic man who stays firmly rooted in the present, while sometimes languishing, sometimes reveling, in his past. Like most of us. A pretty ordinary human being, but a modern Sherlock when it comes to “getting his man,” or in this case, a man and a woman, since the story quickly diverges into two separate stories that dovetail neatly in the end.

The bad guys in these separate stories in this book have neither connection nor interaction, although their stories are historically connected. How Robinson tells the tale is, of course, what makes this a great read. You have to assume right from the first ten pages that they’re going to be somehow connected, otherwise why tell the two stories? But the connections don’t surface until late in the book.

Throughout the telling of these two stories Robinson manages to give us small doses of English history, both modern and ancient, with an emphasis on the here and now. He weaves in small tidbits of criminal history, music that’s popular on both sides of the Pond, and day-to-day life in the England of today. Which, once you get past the language barrier, aren’t much different than what’s happening in a lot of the world of today. “England and America are two countries separated by the same language,” as G.B. Shaw said. The tidbits don’t take away from the stories, and they do add considerable detail and flavor.

The action goes from plodding (pun intended) (“the plod” is what the police in England are sometimes called) to lightning-quick, but as with most police procedurals, it’s painstaking while still holding your interest. Robinson’s characters are likeable, or dislikeable, as the case may be. In this particular story, though, there are some surprises.

All in all an excellent read and well worth a special visit to the bookshop.

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About Lou Novacheck