Born March 17, 1950, in Castleford, Yorkshire, England; son of Clifford Robinson (a photographer) and Miriam Jarvis (a homemaker); married Sheila Halladay (an attorney). Education: University of Leeds, B.A. (with honors), 1974; University of Windsor, M.A., 1975; York University, Ontario, Canada, Ph.D., 1983.
Addresses: Agent—Dominick Abel, 146 W. 82nd St., #1B, New York, NY 10024. Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Writing instructor, University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; teacher of college writing and literature classes, 1983–; published first novel, Gallows View, 1987; writer-in-residence, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, 1992–93.
Member: International Association of Crime Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Crime Writers' Association, Mystery Writers of America.
Awards: Arthur Ellis Award for best short story, for "Innocence," 1990; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, for The Hanging Valley, 1990; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, for Past Reason Hated, 1992; Torgi award for best talking book, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, for Past Reason Hated, 1994; Author's Award, Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters, for Final Account, 1995; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, for Innocent Graves, c. 1996; Macavity Award, for "The Two Ladies of Rose Cottage," 1998; Anthony Award for In a Dry Season, 1999; Barry Award for In a Dry Season, 2001; Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere for In a Dry Season, 2001; Martin Beck Award for In a Dry Season, 2001; Arthur Ellis Award for best short story, for "Murder in Utopia," 2001; Edgar Award for best short story, Mystery Writers of America, for "Missing in Action," 2001; Dagger in the Library Award, Crime Writers of America, 2002; Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, for Cold in the Grave, c. 2000.
British-born novelist Peter Robinson is the creator of the Inspector Alan Banks crime novels, based on the travails of a quirky English law-enforcement officer. Robinson, who lives in Canada, began his series in 1987 with Gallows View. "His work is most often spoken of and reviewed in relation to that of prominent British crime writers, such as Reginald Hill and Ian Rankin," J. Kingston Pierce wrote in January magazine. Robinson's work has proven popular in Canada and the United States. Banks, the central character, solves crimes in Robinson's native Yorkshire county. Banks is as complex as Robinson's plots. Just when readers think they have figured out a storyline, "Robinson jumps in with a jaw-dropping—and usually credible—twist," Arion Berger wrote in People.
Robinson was born in Castleford, Yorkshire, the son of photographer Clifford Robinson and homemaker Miriam Jarvis. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree with honors in English literature from the University of Leeds in 1974; he moved to Canada and earned his master's degree in English and creative writing at the University of Windsor in Ontario. There, he studied under American author Joyce Carol Oates before Oates moved to Princeton. Oates had rejected Robinson's application into her creative writing program, but later attended a poetry reading and enjoyed his work. Asked why he was not in her program, Robinson replied, according to January, "Well, I applied for it, but you turned me down." Oates then agreed to include Robinson in her program; he later served as a writer-in-residence at the university. Robinson said Oates, while guiding him, still left him up to his own initiative. "You really can't teach anyone to write," Robinson told Pierce. "You can only give them a few nuts and bolts, and beyond that, they have to grub their own way along."
After studying at Windsor, Robinson returned to England, but had trouble finding a teaching job. He blamed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who took office in 1979, for budget cuts. He flew back to Canada and enrolled in a Ph.D. program at York University in Toronto. He enjoyed the region and teaching jobs were available, so he stayed. Robinson began writing poetry, and published some works. As an English literature major, he had shunned crime fiction. But Robinson took to the genre one summer, reading his father's Raymond Chandler volumes, as well as Maigret stories by Georges Simeon. Other works by authors such as Agatha Christie, Ross Macdonald, and Dashiel Hammett helped enhance the itch. The budding author struggled at first. "I wrote three novels that should probably be burned, about an eternal student/private eye—they were terrible," Robinson told January's Pierce. "But then I hit on Banks."
Gallows View and A Dedicated Man caught the eyes of a Toronto-based Penguin Books editor. Gallows View was published in 1987 while Robinson was still preparing for his doctoral dissertation. Detective chief inspector Banks, in the twilight of his career, had relocated to Yorkshire from London and found his job there much tougher than expected. He had to investigate burglaries, a peeping tom, and possibly a murder in the countryside. Gallows View was on the short list for the Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) Award for best first novel and for the John Creasey Award in the United Kingdom. In A Dedicated Man, which also made the short list for the CWC Writers Award, Banks investigates the death of a university professor who had proclaimed a field a historic site. Suspects include the professor's wife, a possible mistress, and a businessman who wanted to develop the field.
Banks, according to Robinson's website, stands about 5-foot-8 and weighs 150 pounds. He features a scar near his right eye. "Not especially handsome in the classic sense, but attractive to women," the website said. He dresses casually and distains neckties; if he wears one, it is loose, with the top button undone. Robinson listed Banks as a moderate socialist and liberal humanist; a strong anti-Thatcher thread, in fact, runs through Robinson's novels. "Banks is a bit of a maverick in that he likes to get things done his own way, but he doesn't bend the rules to [the] point of beating suspects or forging evidence against them," Robinson wrote on his website. "He doesn't respond well to authority unless he respects the person who has the job." In a question-and-answer interview with author Michael Connelly on the Mystery Readers International website, Robinson said, "Readers are divided on the role the main character's personal life should play in crime fiction, but I've read enough puzzle-style mysteries to want a little more meat on my plate."
Robinson told January's Pierce "a fair bit" of Banks exists in the author, musical interests in particular, but added: "He's more physically astute than I am. He's a little scrapper. He's not afraid of getting down and dirty, whereas I don't like physical violence at all. I'd probably faint at the sight of blood." In an interview with Maclean's, Robinson added, "I couldn't do his job; I certainly couldn't cope with an autopsy. I don't even like him all the time." In 1989, Robinson continued the Banks series with A Necessary End, about a murder plot involving a commune, and The Hanging Valley, about separate murders and a disappearance that is possibly related. Publishers Weekly gave starred reviews to both.
Robinson departed from the Inspector Banks series when he wrote 1990's Caedmon's Song. The main character, Kirsten, is brutally attacked by a serial rapist and killer who returns for her, fearing she can identify him. It was finally published in the United States in 2004 as The First Cut. Robinson returned to the Banks series with Past Reason Hated, which involved a murder case and won the Arthur Ellis Award for best novel in 1992. Detective Constable Susan Gay joined the Banks investigation for Past Reason Hated, and became a staple in later novels.
Robinson followed that novel with a slew of others, including Wednesday's Child, Final Account, Innocent Graves, and Blood at the Root, all which featured unpredictable twists. Final Account, titled Dry Bones that Dream in the United Kingdom, won an Author's Award from the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters. Robinson strayed from the Banks series for the second time when he published No Cure for Love in 1995.
Publishers Weekly named Innocent Graves one of its best mysteries of 1996, and it earned Robinson his second Arthur Ellis award. Ironically, it evolved from a failed venture, a short story that his agent disliked and his publisher said was difficult to market. "I thought I could build that earlier story into a Banks novel. Banks would be the sympathetic character, and I'd then have this other guy who's wrongly suspected of a crime. That's how Innocent Graves came about," Robinson told January Magazine's Pierce.
Not Safe after Dark and Other Stories, a Robinson short-story collection, came out in 1998; three involved Banks. In a Dry Season (1999) won an Anthony Award; in it, Robinson toggles between the present and wartime England while investigating a killing. "Robinson tells a compelling story of wartime England that rings true," Caroline Mann wrote in Library Journal. Robinson continued his rapid writing pace; he published Cold is the Grave and Aftermath in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Cold is the Grave portrays a young female runaway who is involved with murder and Internet porn, while the author takes a different tack in Aftermath, beginning his story with the arrest of a murder suspect while police answer a domestic violence call.
Robinson published Close to Home and The Summer that Never Was, both involving the finding of remains, in 2003. In 2004's Playing with Fire, Banks and old flame Annie Cabbot examine fires that killed two squatters living on canal boats—a teen drug addict and a landscape painter who fell on hard times. Banks almost died from injuries sustained in the fire. The inspector continues his recovery in the follow-up novel, 2005's Strange Affair, while traipsing to London to investigate a distress call from his brother, Roy.
Robinson's next novel, 2006's Piece of My Heart, has Banks investigating the killing of a freelance music journalist, with a possible tie to another death at a Woodstock-style music festival in Yorkshire a generation earlier. Friend of the Devil was scheduled for publication in September of 2007. The story involves the killings of one woman in a wheelchair near the North Sea and another woman in a Yorkshire storeroom housing medieval artifacts.
Robinson, on his personal home page, said he enjoys the flexibility of shaping the Banks character. "The mystery novel is a great form to work in because I don't feel tied to a certain structure or a certain formula," he explained. "In Aftermath, for instance, I began with the end, and in The Summer That Never Was, I take two cases, one old and one new, and weave them together…. There are always interesting new characters in every book, so I'm not completely reliant on Banks to carry everything. And there's always plenty of crime. There's no shortage of that!"
Robinson acknowledges the challenge in keeping the Banks character and series from getting stale. "A lot of writers seem to start off well for four or five books and then tend to fall off. It might be partly to do with tiring of the series character, the way Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes, or it might be that they've used up the bulk of the material they had to write about. On the other hand, if you practice most things for a long time, you should improve," he told Connelly on the Mystery Readers International website. "While I try to keep up to date with news headlines and forensic advances as regards plot, I think the secret, if there is one, lies in character. Banks has unfolded very slowly over the years, which still leaves me plenty to work with."
Robinson has taught writing courses at various Toronto-area universities, and said that while he sees talent among younger writers, many of them have failed to develop it. "So many of them are more in love with the idea of being a writer than in actually writing. They think it's glamorous," he told January.
The author lives in Toronto with his wife, attorney Sheila Halladay. He belongs to the International Association of Crime Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Crime Writers' Association, and Mystery Writers of America. He returns to Yorkshire, where his family still lives, about three times per year. "I do need to smell the smells, hear the voices and see the sights, but I find I have a pretty good memory for those things and can reconstruct them all here in my study, or remodel them into the world I want to create," Robinson told Connelly. "Naturally, I have plenty of books and photos, and the local newspapers are available on the Internet."
Robinson told January that a plethora of crime-fiction talent exists in Canada, but it is not well publicized. "People are now starting to write about Toronto in a tough way, treating it as a dirtier, grungier, urban environment," he told Pierce. "So it may well be that Americans will one day accept Toronto, at least, as a crime fiction setting."
Gallows View, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
A Dedicated Man, Viking, 1988; Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
A Necessary End, Viking, 1989; Scribner, 1992.
The Hanging Valley, The Viking, 1989; Scribner, 1992.
Caedmon's Song, Viking, 1990; published as The First Cut, Perennial Dark Alley (New York, NY), 2004.
Past Reason Hated, Viking, 1991; Scribner, 1993.
Wednesday's Child, Viking, 1992; Scribner, 1994.
Final Account, Viking, 1994; Scribner, 1995; published as Dry Bones That Dream, Constable (London, England), 1995.
No Cure for Love, Viking, 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, 2001.
Close to Home, William Morrow, 2003.
The Summer That Never Was, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
Playing with Fire, William Morrow, 2004.
Strange Affair, William Morrow, 2005.
A Piece of My Heart, William Morrow, 2006.
Friend of the Devil, McClelland & Stewart, 2007.
Library Journal, April 1, 1999, p. 131.
People, March 8, 2004, p. 39.
"At Home Online," Mystery Readers International, http://www.mysteryreaders.org/athomepeter.html (May 23, 2007).
"Author Spotlight: Peter Robinson," McClelland.com, http://www.mcclelland.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=25851 (May 23, 2007).
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Group, 2007.
"Peter Robinson and His Compelling Insp. Banks Books," Maclean's, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=M1ARTM0012575 (May 17, 2007).
Peter Robinson Official Website, http://www.peterrobinsonbooks.com (May 11, 2007).
"There's Nothing Dry about Peter Robinson," January, http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/probinson.html (May 17, 2007).
"The Summer That Never Was: Q&A with Peter Robinson," PeterRobinsonbooks.com, http://www.peterrobinsonbooks.com/summer_canada_qa.html (May 23, 2007).