Sunday, 1 January 2012

In a Dry Season

Finding myself rather unwell, and taking the sensible option of staying in bed until at least slightly better, I realised that this was the perfect opportunity for some undisturbed reading.

Picking up a book from somewhere near the top of the loose and teetering pile in the library I decided to go with something that I wouldn't usually read: crime fiction.

In a Dry Season is a 1999 work by Peter Robinson and (I discovered after reading it) one of a series of novels featuring Inspector Alan Banks and set in the fictional town of Eastvale in Yorkshire.

I was drawn to this book (I admit it) because I was intrigued by the photograph on the cover, of a winter tree and a church, almost fully submerged in water. Obviously a manipulated image, but intriguing nonetheless. My copy shows a 1940s bomber aircraft reflected in the flood-water, but this seems to have been removed from later editions. A quick search shows me the front covers of other editions: a painting of a submerged village in a valley, almost wholly obscured by writing (Canada); a rather dull picture of water and a ruin (also Canada); and the view down a hill of a row of old-fashioned English cottages, with a crackled effect on the paper to make it look aged (USA). None of these would have drawn me in.

The text on the back of the book is short and to the point; an accurate summary of the opening of the mystery.

"During a blistering summer, drought has depleted the precious resources of Thornfield Reservoir, uncovering the remains of a small village called Hobb's End - hidden from view for over forty years. For a curious young boy this resurfaced hamlet has become a magical playground...until he unearths a human skeleton. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, unpopular with his superiors for having challenged the system once too often, is given the impossible task of identifying the victim - a woman who lived in a place that no longer exists, whose former residents are scattered to the winds...".

Also intriguing.

And so I started reading.

The text flits between wartime and the present day, the stories running quite quickly beside one another. I was drawn easily into the past, but felt some trepidation on meeting Inspector Banks. Experience has made me cautious. Should I just flick through and skip to the end? Or would this be worth a full reading? I decided to stick to my 50-page rule and continue on. And it didn't let me down.

Surprisingly well-written (what little experience I have of crime fiction has been of the groanworthy sort) it played out with a firm - if uncomplicated - plot, believable conversation and interaction, and characters  who, whilst not entirely likeable, are nonetheless compelling. It even offers a sly nod to the genre itself by means of a character who is a crime writer but who - in the words of one copper - "Hasn't a clue about how we really operate...but then none of them do".

Peter Robinson seems to have done rather well for himself, judging by the list of awards on his website. A few of his books have even recently made it onto television as adaptations from ITV. 

I think I got on so well with this book partly because of its historical aspect. I'm not so sure that others in the series would interest me in quite the same way, but that's not to say that I would never pick one up if I came across it.

I become very attached to my books, very quickly, but I'm not sure that this is one I will read again, and so I will send it travelling via Bookcrossing, in the hope that it will find another reader who will enjoy it as much as I did.
Originally published at

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