Robinson, Peter 1950–
ROBINSON, Peter 1950–
Born March 17, 1950, in Castleford, Yorkshire, England; son of Clifford Robinson (a photographer) and Miriam Jarvis (a homemaker); married Sheila Halladay (a lawyer). Education: University of Leeds, B.A. (with honors), 1974; University of Windsor, M.A., 1975; York University, Ontario, Canada, Ph.D., 1983. Politics: "Liberal humanist." Religion: "Under consideration." Hobbies and other interests: Music, travel, walking, reading, pubs.
Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Agent—Dominick Abel, 146 W. 82nd St., #1B, New York, NY 10024.
University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writing instructor; teacher of college writing and literature classes, 1983—; University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, writer-inresidence, 1992-93.
International Association of Crime Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Crime Writers' Association, Mystery Writers of America.
Arthur Ellis Award for best short story, 1990, for "Innocence"; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, 1990, for The Hanging Valley, and 1991, for Past Reason Hated; Torgi award for best talking book, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, 1994, for Past Reason Hated; Author's Award, Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters, 1995, for Final Account; Macavity Award, 1998, for "The Two Ladies of Rose Cottage;" Anthony Award, 1999, Barry Award, Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, 2001, Martin Beck Award, 2001, and Edgar Award nomination from Mystery Writers of America, all for In a Dry Season; Arthur Ellis Award for best short story, 2001, for "Murder in Utopia"; Edgar Award for best short story, Mystery Writers of America, 2001, for "Missing in Action;" Dagger in the Library Award, Crime Writers of America, 2002; Edgar Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, for Wednesday's Child; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, for Innocent Graves and Cold in the Grave.
Gallows View, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
A Dedicated Man, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
A Necessary End, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.
The Hanging Valley, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.
Caedmon's Song, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990, published as The First Cut, Perennial Dark Alley (New York, NY), 2004.
Past Reason Hated, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Wednesday's Child, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.
Final Account, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994, Berkley (New York, NY), 1995, published as Dry Bones that Dream, Constable (London, England), 1995.
No Cure for Love, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Innocent Graves, Berkley (New York, NY), 1996.
Blood at the Root, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
Not Safe after Dark and Other Stories, Crippen & Landru Publishers (Norfolk, VA), 1998.
In a Dry Season, Avon Twilight (New York, NY), 1999.
Cold Is the Grave, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Aftermath, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
Close to Home, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
The Summer that Never Was, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
Playing with Fire, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
Strange Affair, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Piece of My Heart, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
With Equal Eye (poems), Gabbro Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979.
Nosferatu (poems), Gabbro Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981.
(Editor, with Roy Fisher) News for the Ear: A Homage to Roy Fisher, Stride Publications (Devon, England), 2000.
Also contributor to anthologies, including Cold Blood II, Mosaic Press, 1989; Cold Blood III, Cold Blood IV, and Cold Blood V. Contributor of short stories to magazines such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Robinson's works have been translated into fifteen languages.
Playing with Fire and Strange Affair have been adapted as audiobooks.
Mystery author Peter Robinson resides in Canada but sets most of his books in the English countryside of Yorkshire, where he was born and raised. He has written a series of novels featuring Detective Inspector Alan Banks, who solves murder cases for the Yorkshire police. The "Banks" series has proven popular in Canada, England, and the United States, with a Publishers Weekly contributor calling it "one of the best collections of procedurals extant." The same reviewer concluded: "The measured effectiveness of [Robinson's] prose and the increasingly complex life of Inspector Banks make this an ever more compelling series." In the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio wrote of Banks: "He loves the opera and appreciates a lively, intelligent woman, even if she happens not to be his wife. He's no pushover, but he can sympathize with the human frailties that make decent folk go bad. All in all, Chief Inspector Alan Banks shapes up admirably as a civilized detective of the old school of British justice." To quote another Publishers Weekly reviewer: "The inhabitants of Robinson's Yorkshire are a far cry from James Herriot's sturdy farmers …. Nevertheless, Robinson … creates an appealing Yorkshire setting with evocative descriptions of the … town, dales, and seaside."
The first of Robinson's Banks mysteries, Gallows View, was published in 1987, while the author was still working on his doctoral dissertation. The book was nominated by the Crime Writers of Canada as the best first novel of the year. Banks, who has recently arrived in Yorkshire after police service in London, learns quickly that the quieter life he sought in the countryside is simply not to be. Faced with a peeping tom, a rash of burglaries, and a possible murder, Banks "adds his own dimension to detecting through his logical, instinctive, and persistent nature," according to St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers essayist Bruce Southworth. Southworth likewise commented that this first Banks procedural "sets the stage for this intelligent, insightful, and entertaining series." Banks returns in A Dedicated Man, in which he investigates the strange death of Harry Steadman, a university professor who is found covered in rocks and with a fatal head injury. It becomes apparent that foul play is involved; suspects include his wife, the businessman who wants to develop a field that Steadman had proclaimed a historic site, and a possible mistress.
A Necessary End, Robinson's next Banks novel, depicts a murder that initially seems to be the act of a violent mob of protesters but later proves to have been premeditated. Deeply involved in the plot is Maggie's Farm, a commune full of New Age types. Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that "like the region that breeds them, the people in Mr. Robinson's mysteries flaunt their colors but keep their secrets." In The Hanging Valley Inspector Banks is confronted with two different murders and a mysterious disappearance that may be related. Stasio approved of The Hanging Valley as well, calling it an "emotionally rich novel, in which death seems preferable to life in endless exile from the 'green and pleasant land' of one's home."
Robinson took a break from Inspector Banks in Caedmon's Song, published in the United States as The First Cut. The book is the story of a young woman named Kirsten who is the sole survivor of an attack by a brutal serial rapist and killer. She is, however, terribly maimed. Caedmon's Song focuses on her slow, struggling recovery as well as the mystery of her attacker, who is coming back for her because he believes she can identify him. Southworth called the novel "gripping" and observed that with its publication "Robinson solidifies his place in the realms of both mystery and horror." A Publishers Weekly reviewer declared First Cut an "intricately constructed, standalone novel of suspense and revenge," while a Kirkus Reviews critic called it a "brutally efficient page-turner that shows a welcome new side to Banks's accomplished creator."
Banks is back in Past Reason Hated, Robinson's 1991 effort. This time the inspector investigates the killing of a beautiful lesbian; possible perpetrators include both past lovers and the scorned ex-partners of these lovers. Also introduced in this novel is a new character, Detective Constable Susan Gay. Gay has accompanied Banks on his more recent forays into crime-solving, including Wednesday's Child, Innocent Graves, and Blood at the Root. In all of these novels, matters are not what they seem: a child is abducted by people posing as ardent social workers; a teenager is found strangled in a churchyard with multiple suspects nearby; a neo-Nazi's death in a brawl may have been staged by members of his own group. In a People review of Innocent Graves, Jeff Brown noted that Robinson's Banks mysteries "may be genre stuff—police procedural, English village—but it's first-class work. Banks and his assistant Susan Gay are good company, the plot twists frequent and surprising." The Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "If Banks has occasionally appeared a shade too decent and placid in past works, this eighth appearance finds him with a new, sharper edge. Banks is still a kindly enough soul, but he knowingly occupies a world that has suddenly become more richly treacherous."
Southworth contended that in all of Robinson's "Banks" series books, the detective "attempts, in his cases as in life, to strip away the veil of mystery or facade and reveal what lies beneath." The critic noted of Robinson: "The richness of his characters, his ability to successfully examine the events of modern life in the context of a rural setting and yet weave gripping and entertaining novels, sets Robinson apart from the majority of crime novelists …. Though his output is comparatively small, he consistently delivers on the promise of each of his earlier novels and can look for a long career at the top of his field."
In 1998, Robinson published a collection of short stories, including three featuring Inspector Banks, as Not Safe after Dark and Other Stories. His tenth novel featuring Inspector Banks is the Anthony Award-winning In a Dry Season. During what appears to be a routine case, Banks discovers a community's secrets from a half a century ago as he investigates the discovery of a murder victim's skeletal remains in a dried-up reservoir. In the book, Robinson's narrative switches back and forth from the present to the time of the murder during World War II. Caroline Mann, writing in Library Journal, commented that "Robinson tells a compelling story of wartime England that rings true."
In Cold Is the Grave, Robinson presents a tale of a young girl who has run away from home and become involved in Internet porn and, as is later discovered, murder. The investigation is complicated because the girl happens to be the daughter of Inspector Banks's boss, Chief Constable Riddle, with whom he shares a mutual dislike. Further adding to the inspector's dilemma are his own personal demons, including his relationships with his ex-wife and his sometimes girlfriend, Annie Cabbot. Wilda Williams, writing in Library Journal, called the book a "great read for those dark and stormy nights."
In Aftermath Robinson's twelfth Inspector Banks mystery, the author begins the novel with a twist: the actual capture of the murderer during a routine domestic violence call. What follows is a tale focusing on the aftermath of capturing the serial rapist and killer of young girls, including questions about the killer's wife and her involvement in the crimes. Another issue concerns the brutal police beating of the killer after he murders one of the police officers trying to arrest him. Oline H. Cogdill, writing for the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, noted that, despite focusing on issues such as child abuse and domestic violence, the book is a psychological thriller and avoids gratuitous violence. Cogdill added: "While Robinson is careful not to make Aftermath a sociological study, he explores the cycle of domestic abuse better than novels that are merely soapboxes in disguise." In a review of Aftermath for Library Journal, Francine Fialkoff commented that this "Banks" novel "puts Robinson firmly in the upper echelon of British mystery writers."
As for Robinson, he noted on his personal home page that he struggled with several versions of Aftermath and did not really succeed until he decided to make it an Inspector Banks book. " Aftermath isn't a comfortable book; it's a book that involves and challenges the reader," wrote Robinson. "But as anyone who has read the last few Banks books already knows, I don't like to follow a formula."
In Close to Home Banks is forced into grim nostalgia when the remains of Graham Marshall, an old childhood friend who disappeared while on his newspaper route in 1965, are uncovered. Cutting short a Greek island vacation, Banks travels back to his Cambridgeshire home town of Peterborough, where he confronts his guilt at an unrevealed clue that might have helped the investigation into Graham's disappearance. As he becomes unofficially involved in the case, he finds himself falling for investigator Michelle Hart while recalling his past. Meanwhile, in the present, Annie Cabbot is investigating the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Luke Armitage, the reserved and intellectual son of a deceased rock star and a teen who has also disappeared under unexplained circumstances. Banks explores his own past, and the current culture of teenagers, as he works to solve Luke's disappearance and discover a link between the two teenagers' cases. In addition to the mystery, Robinson explores some more abstract concepts associated with youth and aging: "the illusory nature of nostalgia; the dark, secret lives of small towns; middle age; and the oft-lamented challenges of going home again," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor. Fans of Banks "will enjoy watching the grizzled veteran get to know his younger self," commented Keir Graff in Booklist.
Playing with Fire teams Banks and ex-lover Cabbot again as they investigate two suspicious fires that destroyed two canal boats and killed two squatters living on them: teenage drug addict Tina Aspern and impoverished landscape painter Thomas McMahon. High on the list of suspects are Mark Siddons, Tina's philandering boyfriend, and Dr. Patrick Aspern, her pedophilic stepfather. When another fire claims the life of Roland Gardner, a college friend of McMahon's, the stakes become even higher. Meanwhile, as Annie starts a relationship with an art forgery expert, Banks tries to sort out his still-conflicted feelings for her. People critic Arion Berger called Playing with Fire "the most accomplished of the Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks series."
At the beginning of Strange Affair, Banks is recovering from a fire that nearly killed him in the previous novel. When his wealthy, estranged younger brother, Roy, leaves a message on his answering machine, pleading for help, Banks is perplexed. He had not heard from Roy in years, but his plea sounds genuine. Unable to contact Roy, Banks heads to London to see what he can do. When he arrives at Roy's house, he finds the place unlocked and empty, with Roy nowhere to be found. What he does find, however, are unsavory clues that suggest the source of Roy's wealth and that hint at the dilemma he appears to be in. As Banks searches for his sibling, Annie Cabbot investigates the death of a young woman along the roadway who has been shot execution style. Oddly, the girl had in her possession a letter addressed to Banks. When the letter is discovered, the "reader knows that Robinson will tie the two investigations together in fiendishly clever ways," observed Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher. In reviewing Strange Affair for Library Journal, Deborah Shippy called the Banks novels a "police procedural series that just keeps getting better."
Robinson once told CA: "Though my background is academic, and I began my writing career with poetry, it seemed natural to turn to crime fiction because that is a field where a great deal of fine writing is being done these days. Though I have a series character, I try to make each book a little different and constantly work at improving my narrative skills. 'It must tell a story,' said E.M. Forster of the novel in general, and crime novelists are perhaps more aware of this than anyone else. The challenge to me, though, is not so much in the nuts and bolts of plotting—though they are, indeed, a challenge—but in getting the characters right and creating a strong, concrete sense of place. The Inspector Banks novels are set in the Yorkshire Dales, an area I revisit every year, and as I always found the sense of place fascinating in other authors—from Thomas Hardy to Seamus Heaney—I give it perhaps more precedence than many other crime writers.
"I started the first Inspector Banks novel as a break from writing my Ph.D. dissertation and was lucky enough to have it accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. I didn't have an agent … and my novel was the only unsolicited manuscript Penguin accepted that year."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, November 15, 1998, review of Not Safe after Dark and Other Stories, p. 573; September 1, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Aftermath, p. 57; January 1, 2003, Keir Graff, review of Close to Home, p. 856; February 1, 2005, Connie Fletcher, review of Strange Affair, p. 947.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 8, 1999, review of In a Dry Season, p. D12.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1998, review of Not Safe after Dark, p. 1419; March 1, 1999, review of In a Dry Season, p. 335; November 1, 2002, review of Close to Home, p. 1576; July 15, 2004, review of The First Cut, p. 663.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 28, 2001, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Aftermath, p. K2588.
Library Journal, April 1, 1999, Caroline Mann, review of In a Dry Season, p. 131; October 1, 2000, Wilda Williams, review of Cold Is the Grave, p. 152; September 1, 2001, Francine Fialkoff, review of Aftermath, p. 239; July, 2004, Deborah Shippy, review of The First Cut, p. 65; February 1, 2005, Deborah Shippy, review of Strange Affair, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, December 30, 1990, Karla Kuskin, review of A Brighter Garden, p. 19; April 5, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Necessary End, p. 14; January 3, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Hanging Valley, p. 15; April 18, 1999, review of In a Dry Season, p. 101.
People, October 14, 1996, Jeff Brown, review of Innocent Graves, p. 42; March 8, 2004, Arion Berger, review of Playing with Fire, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1993, review of Past Reason, p. 54; January 31, 1994, review of Wednesday's Child, p. 78; July 3, 1995, review of Final Account, p. 51; June 3, 1996, review of Innocent Graves, p. 64; October 13, 1997, review of Blood at the Root, p. 58; October 19, 1998, review of Not Safe after Dark, p. 59; September 4, 2000, review of Cold Is the Grave, p. 88; August 27, 2001, review of Aftermath, p. 57; December 9, 2002, review of Close to Home, p. 60; July 26, 2004, review of The First Cut, p. 36.
School Library Journal, September, 1999, review of In a Dry Season, p. 244.
Times (London, England), February 22, 1999, review of In a Dry Season, p. 68; August 27, 2001, review of Aftermath, p. 57.
Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 1991, Patricia Craig, review of Caedmon's Song, p. 22.
Peter Robinson Home Page,http://www.inspectorbanks.com (June 4, 2006).*