Review: In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

17th August 2010

As I sat there remembering, time went by …. Then a full moon rose, scattering its bone-white light, in which I fancied I could see clear through the water to the village that used to be there, like an image preserved in water glass. There it was, spread out below me, darkly glittering and shimmering under the barely perceptible rippling of the surface

As I stared, I began to feel that I could reach out and touch it. It was like the wold beyond the mirror in Cocteau’s Orpheus. When you reach out and touch the glass, it turns to water and you can plunge through it into the Underworld.

Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season revolves around Hobb’s End, a Yorkshire village flooded and turned into a reservoir in the early 1950s. In a particularly hot summer, the reservoir dries up, and a young boy playing in the detritus discovers a body buried under an outbuilding. DCI Alan Banks is on the outs with his boss Jimmy Riddle and is given the case as punishment. Riddle should know better as Banks sinks his teeth into the decades-old case, determined to find the killer if he or she is still alive.

Robinson interweaves the present with Banks’ marriage and career in tatters with a country in similar plight: 1940s Hobb’s End, complete with blackout curtains, RAF dances, rationing, death, and suffering. Gwen Shackleton, the shopkeeper’s daughter, cares for her ailing mother and minds the shop. One day, Gloria comes into the store, and Gwen the quiet, bookish girl compares Gloria’s eyes to Hardy’s novel A Pair of Blue Eyes. When Gloria asks for cigarettes out of the store’s ration, Gwen tells her no.

I was lying, of course. We did have cigarettes, but what small supply we had we kept under the counter for our registered customers. We certainly didn’t go selling them to strange and beautiful land girls with eyes out of Thomas Hardy novels.

Gloria is enigmatic – loved and hated for her beauty. Gwen’s brother walks in, and their fortuitous meeting forever links Gwen and Gloria, through war, through loss, and through love.

I find Robinson to be at his best when he melds two storylines from different time periods, both inside the minds of the victim/victim’s family and friends as well as the detective seeking justice for these people. The scenes of Yorkshire during World War II were really interesting; the quiet desperation amid a hopeful, fearful people was heartbreaking.

Banks is a quiet detective. If you’ve had no exposure to him before, he likes his Laphroaig, but he likes it with a side of opera. He’s flawed but fascinating with a deep sense of right and wrong, whether right and wrong is inside police procedural or not. In a Dry Season is one of his best, and I’m looking forward to reviewing his newest book for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer group.

If you have never read any Robinson, I urge you to look him up (as well as Ian Rankin). If you’ve read any Robinson, what are your favorites? Have you read this particular novel? Are you looking forward to his latest?

  • I’ve read this one too – I really like Peter Robinsons books. Have you read any of his stand alones? I really liked Caedmon’s Song but apparantly that’s one of his worst. I have read 3 of the Inspector Banks books and really enjoy those.

    • I haven’t read his stand alones. I’ve only read Inspector Banks. I found him after I sped through everything by Ian Rankin.

  • Great review of this one and it is probably one of my favorites. I thought he did so well with the flashbacks and all. I loved that at the end of this one you feel like there’s going to be a big turning point in Banks life with so many changes happening. I almost picked up one of his books last night. I was so close. Next for me in the series is Aftermath.

    And, you know, I love Rankin too. It’s been a while though since I’ve checked in on Inspector Rebus. I do find the Rebus series a bit harder to get into probably because Rankin adds in more of a political background and sometimes I get a bit lost but that’s no excuse I need to follow up on that series.

    • Thanks, Iliana. It’s one of my favorites as well. I think I’ve read almost all of the Banks series. I’m getting an early copy of his next. Is it Aftermath? I can’t remember the title. I am watching the mail daily for it!

      I LOVE Rebus so much. I find him such a sexy character. I love that rugged sense of right and wrong. He’s independent and intelligent and bookish and… ok, imaginary man crushes. Sad. I’ll stop now. 🙂

  • “If you’ve had no exposure to him before, he likes his Laphroaig, but he likes it with a side of opera.” I love this line! I’ve heard so much of Inspector Banks, and I don’t know why I’ve waited to pick it up. There’s something about a quiet detective series — have you read P.D. James? Interested if they’re similar in the sense of a good quiet detective read?

    • Hmm. I’ve only read a bit of P.D. James. I would describe them as quiet. I’ve mentioned in the past, I like European detective novels (usually) better than American ones because the American titles tend to be pretty gritty and “loud.” Give this series a try. I think you’d like it. And thanks!