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Not Safe After Dark & Other Stories
By Peter Robinson
Crippen & Landru, $16.00, 227 pp., October 1998
Reviewed by Tom Kreitzberg
Peter Robinson is, no doubt, a very well-adjusted man. The same can't be said, though, of many of the characters in NOT SAFE AFTER DARK, a collection of thirteen of his short stories. Three are police procedurals featuring series detective Alan Banks, and three more also have solving a murder at the center of the plot. But it's the other seven, each with an apparently ordinary person giving in to some dark impulse of violence or lust, that set the tone of this aptly-named collection.
In the Arthur Ellis Award-winning "Innocence," for example, Terry Reed's weekend holiday takes a disastrous turn when his friend fails to meet him at the train station. Reed's innocent wanderings while trying to contact his friend are given a sinister interpretation by the police, who suspect him of raping and murdering a local schoolgirl. We follow Reed as his life is systematically dismantled by the justice system; the conclusion is both disturbing and inevitable. (Robinson later re-worked "Innocence" into the Inspector Banks novel INNOCENT GRAVES.)
Justice faces odds of about six-to-five against in this collection, and even when justice is meted out -- as, for example, on the pompous and calculating mystery writer Dennis Quilley in "Fan Mail" -- it's likely to be delivered by someone no more virtuous than the one punished. Sometimes it's hard to know how justice would even apply; the doomed salesman in "Just My Luck" is a man both sinning and sinned against, and after all the questions in "Summer Rain" are answered, to no-one's benefit, Inspector Banks decides, "Sometimes... things are better left alone."
A very nice addition to the stories is the set of brief introductions to each, in which Robinson gives some background on what brought him to write it. The title story, for example, arose from the intrigue of American tourist guides warning that large urban parks are "not safe after dark." The tragic "In Flanders Fields," first published here, grew from a passing mention in a reference book to the unsolved murder of an eccentric woman in an English village during World War II.
Funny in places and entertaining throughout, the overall tone of NOT SAFE AFTER DARK is nonetheless unsettling, with the implied message that anyone is capable of anything, and the situations that might lead one to do it aren't as unusual as we'd like to think. Even more than urban parks, the title seems to refer to the human heart.
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