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IN A DRY SEASON
By Peter Robinson

Avon Books, April, 1999 $24.00
ISBN 0-380-97581-5
Format: Hardcover

Reviewed by Larry Jung (12/99)

In the pages of IN A DRY SEASON, Peter Robinson has demonstrated that he is a first class writer. He has, in my opinion, given us a literary experience beyond the genre of crime fiction. The bare bones of the plot is solving a murder that happened decades ago to a woman all but forgotten in a time we remember only in documentaries of the recent past. But just as Camus's THE STRANGER and Dostoevskys's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT are about murder, they are also about life and man's condition in this life.

Robinson's story uses the incident of a murder to paint us an arresting portait of rural England during World War II. It is Gwen's narrative that overshadows Inspector Alan Banks's murder investigation. Her words conjure up ordinary people in the grip of something beyond their understanding. The rationing of food, fuel, even cigarettes. The strange foreign place names (Imphal). The stolen pleasures of blackmarket booze and meat. The brief escape watching Vivian Leigh and Humphrey Bogart at the movies. The excitement of Yanks from the nearby airbase suddenly in their village with their funny accents and slang, and their outgoing and boyish ways.

Gwen writes, "Most villagers had already seen the newcomers [American Airmen] around, and I had even served some of them in the shop, where they had looked puzzled at our meager offerings and confused by the unfamiliar brand names. Some people disapproved of their arrival...thinking it would lower moral standards, but most of us quickly accepted them as part of the general scenery. I even helped the local WVS set up a Welcome Club for them in Harkside. Thus far, in my limited experience, Americans had always been friendly and polite, though I can't say I really warmed to the way they called me 'ma'am.' It made me feel so old. "They were certainly far more casual and confident in their manner than our lads, and they had much smarter uniforms. They even wore shoes rather than the great clodhopping boots the Minstry saw fit to issue to our poor armed forces. Of course, our view of Americans was still almost entirely formed by the glamour of Hollywood films, magazines, and popular songs. To some, they were all cowboys and gangsters; to others, the men were handsome heroes and the women beautiful and rather vulgar molls."

I was so engrossed that I found myself skimming over the crime investigation scenes to get back to Gwen's wartime narrative. It is understandable that Peter Robinson has written so convincingly about a small village in England, about the emotions and coping of these people. Robinson's strength as a writer and the strength of the Inspector Alan Bank's novels is his uncanny ability to portray a fictional community, to make for his readers a community more real than our own. He understands the psychology and sociology of small communities.

I don't want to put off fans of the Inspector Alan Banks series or fans of English police procedurals. IN A DRY SEASON is a murder mystery. Inspector Alan Banks is assigned to investigate the discovery of a skeleton in an abandoned village. The body had been buried decades ago. Finding out the identity of the body let alone the murderer seems hopeless. Since this case has no prospects of success, Banks sees this as just another nail in his coffin. He has defied the rules one time too many and has ruined his career (BLOOD AT THE ROOT). Worse yet, he is teamed with a DS who is also an outcast.

Peter Robinson's tenth Inspector Alan Banks novel IN A DRY SEASON is worth the hardback price. And if you are new to this series, you are in luck. Avon Books is making the whole series available again in the USA.

The Inspector Alan Banks books are GALLOWS VIEW, A DEDICATED MAN, A NECESSARY END, THE HANGING VALLEY, PAST REASON HATED, WEDNESDAY'S CHILD, FINAL ACCOUNT, INNOCENT GRAVES, BLOOD AT THE ROOT, and IN A DRY SEASON. Also by this author: NOT SAFE AFTER DARK & OTHER STORIES (a collection of short stories, three of which, feature Inspector Banks.)

Fans of Peter Robinson may want to visit his website.


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