Monday, June 15, 2020

Many Rivers to Cross - Peter Robinson

By my count, Many Rivers to Cross is Peter Robinson’s twenty-sixth Inspector John Banks novel. I only discovered the series with book number twenty-five, Careless Love, a novel I very much enjoyed and was excited to have stumbled upon at my local library. From there, I decided to start reading the books in the order in which they were published, and I’ve now read the first five books in the series. Obviously, however, it’s going to take a few years for me to catch up with the series, so I’ve decided to read the latest ones when they are published rather than waiting that long to get to them.

 

And that brings me to Many Rivers to Cross.

 

 Imagine my surprise when I discovered what a foul mood author Peter Robinson is in these days and how he’s let that mood bleed so heavily into this latest Inspector Banks novel. Somewhere between pages three and five (depending on the version being read), Robinson makes clear how much he despises the American president, certain French politicians and their political stances, and most of all Brexit and anyone who dared vote for Britain to leave the European Union. Robinson has one of his two main characters speak words to this effect in the very first conversation in the book – a conversation that, in fact, will turn out to have nothing to do with the plot other than potentially supplying an alibi later in the story that is never requested with any seriousness anyway.

 

Most readers, I think, will recognize the conversation for what it is, a way for Robinson to blow a little steam. That becomes even more obvious in the last quarter of the book when the author twice describes a physically unattractive character by referencing vocal Brexit proponent Nigel Farage as someone the character rather closely resembles. I as a reader, and a fan of Robinson’s novels, get it. I understand which side of the political divide he is on, and I understand his frustration. What I don’t understand is Robinson’s failure to resist the urge to be so in your face about his feelings instead of using a more subtle, and ultimately much more effective, method to get his message across to readers.

 

Peter Robinson
The plot of Many Rivers to Cross is nothing new really, except for the way that Robinson emphasizes so strongly the inherent racism of so many of the characters in the novel, most of them, of course, being criminals - or elderly citizens who display their casual racism without even realizing that their manner of speaking could ever be considered racist by anyone hearing them speak. Everything revolves around a little Syrian boy whose dead body is found curled up inside a large trash bin. No one knows who the little boy is or where he is from, but it is obvious to investigators that he is “Middle Eastern.” And it is obvious that Peter Robinson believes that a substantial percentage of Brits are not really going to worry much about the murder of a little boy with skin darker than theirs, and he wants to make sure his readers get that point.

 

One thing leads to another, as it always does when Banks and his team start pulling on loose threads and trying to reconnect them in a way that identifies a murderer, and before long they are immersed in a world of sex trafficking, drug dealing, Albanian mobsters, crooked real estate deals, and wild parties at the home of a prominent Eastvale businessman. The chase is fun, as it always is, because Robinson is particularly good at creating a living, breathing environment for the fictional Eastvale and he populates it with believable characters, both major and minor.

 

Bottom Line: Many Rivers to Cross is a book with a heavy message, one that needs to be told. Unfortunately, Robinson’s approach is so heavy-handed that it even makes the ending of his novel a very predictable one. Too, I have to wonder how many readers tossed the novel aside after completing only the first chapter, either having been offended by the words Robinson has one character speak in that chapter, or because they were hoping for a book that would help them escape for a few hours the constant drumbeat of political disharmony that has so divided our world and our lives. The author may have overplayed his hand in this one.

8 comments:

  1. Excellent review. And I will never read it! The last thing I want in my reading is current day politics!

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    1. Thank you, Nan.

      I kind of feel bad for Robinson that his editor didn't point out that his approach to this new one was not the best. It is particularly sad because it happened in such a long-running and popular series.

      I'll remember this one for all the wrong reasons.

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  2. Sounds maybe like the one in this series to skip. Authors are always more effective when they're not so heavy-handed.

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    1. It all boils down to respect, I think. Robinson obviously has little respect for his readers because he thinks they can't get his "message" unless he beats them over the head with it. As a result, my respect level for Mr. Robinson has gone down a notch, and that should not have had to happen.

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  3. Actually, I find it interesting that Robinson has changed so much. Haven't read him in several years, but I do remember that some of his plots were based on current events at the time. Is Annie still around? You haven't mentioned her.

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    1. Change in characters is definitely part of the fun, I agree. My problem is not really with the change in Banks, and he's not the one making the hardcore political attacks in this instance, really, anyway. Banks is now concerned with racism and seems to see it everywhere he turns, but Robinson does a good job of blending that into his overall story. That's where a lot of the anti-Brexit stuff comes into play later in the book.

      His real tirade comes from a woman character making her second appearance in the series, herself a victim of sex-trafficking who is now killing her former abusers one-by-one unbeknownst to Banks. And it's not what he has her saying...that's fine if it is the character he's building...it's the fact that the rant starts right on page 3 and continues through page 5. Before the reader can even get into the characters and the book, it's clumsily thrown out there with almost no context.

      And then for the next two-thirds of the book there is nothing like that conversation again until racism rears its ugly head as a possible motive for murder in the last third of the book.

      I hope that makes more sense to you and you see what I'm trying to say. IMO, it's just bad writing that I haven't seen much of from Robinson in previous novels.

      Annie is still there, and still a major side character. Banks is divorced now and single but a little too shy to do much mingling at this point in his story. We'll see where that goes next because he seems to be attracted to almost every woman he meets.

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    2. No, I meant the change in his writing to be more open about his own viewpoints. I haven't read the more recent books, so I was curious about it. I find that change interesting, but I don't know if I want to read the books at present.

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    3. Oh, I see. In that case, this is definitely a change from the earliest of the books. I've only read the first five and the last two, so there's a large gap between those that I know nothing about. The change you refer to make have been coming on gradually and I just don't know because I haven't read those books. But the change from the first five to this last one seems really abrupt.

      It probably struck me even more because of the 24-7 bombardment of bad news that we are all suffering these days. I really need some escapism right now, not books that are so current that they seem redundant.

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