Close to Home, by Peter Robinson

Another long drive, but I delayed starting on this audio book. Overcast as the day was, its October colors still thrilled me, orange and yellow leaves vying with the still-green grass, the dried-up cornfields. At first I listened to Kate Rusby and David Francey, but then turned off the music and listened to the shushing of tires on asphalt. I drove through countryside that rucked up close and then fell away, past farms tucked into dales and towns dwarfed by the high sweep of the valleys they hid in. As the mountains closed in around me, I felt comforted, though for what I do not know.

Sometimes I feel that I just can’t take another story, whether it’s a book or a song or a film. I don’t want to meet new characters or hear about their problems. I don’t want to make the emotional effort to enter their lives. I’ve heard Lynda Barry talk about how we need stories, need them for our emotional health. And I agree. I do. But sometimes I need a break. I just need to be in my own head for a while.

Finally, though, after about five hours and with another five to go, I was ready for the trip to be over and switched on this book to make the time go faster. It was a good choice. For many years I’ve enjoyed Robinson’s series of police procedurals featuring Alan Banks, a Yorkshire DCI. One of the advantages of a series, for me, is knowing some of the characters already, making it easier to slip into the story.

This book opens on a Greek island where Banks is on an extended leave, recovering from a traumatic case and an abortive love affair. I like Banks’s gruffness and his blend of practicality and knight errantry. I remember feeling his baffled distress in an earlier book when, their children grown and gone, his wife left him. That was two years before the time of this book, years whose ordeals have damaged him further. Now, he’s created a life of sorts for himself on the island and considers staying on, taking early retirement.

However, when bones are found in a field near where he grew up in Peterborough, he realises that he has to go back to England. The bones turn out to be the remains of his close friend, Graham, whose disappearance during the summer they were sixteen has cast a shadow over Banks’s adult life. Banks heads for his parents’ house as he tries to work out how to help with the investigation without stepping on the toes of the local constabulary.

At the same time, Annie Cabbot, Banks’s former inamorata, is working a missing persons case, a fifteen-year-old boy who has vanished after buying some books in town. The boy’s mother and stepfather are minor celebrities, a model and football star, and they are convinced that he has not simply run away. As the case accelerates, Banks is drawn in even as he continues to follow the investigation into the death of his boyhood friend.

Listening, perhaps not paying close enough attention, I sometimes got confused as to which case was being discussed. Usually this happened at the start of a chapter, when I had to stop and think which lost boy was which, but it was only for a minute. The various puzzles work themselves out in believable ways. I liked the pace of the incremental revelations and found the ending quite satisfactory. Some of the characters turn out to be unexpectedly complex. And Annie’s twists and turns, alternately questioning herself and moving out bravely, make me feel I know her. I hope to see more of her in future installments. Best of all, the book kept me so preoccupied that the time flew by, both the remainder of that day’s journey and most of the return journey a few days later.

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