The Hanging Valley is book number four in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series. By this point, Chief Inspector Alan Banks has been in Yorkshire for almost two years and is settling nicely into a considerably slower pace of crime-fighting than the one he once faced in London. Banks really enjoys detective work, and always has, but in London he knew that too many citizens see contact with the police as a confrontation - and he found the resulting unpleasant pressure to be more uncomfortable than it was worth. Too, Banks found it difficult to work while under the constant scrutiny of superiors, and in London he felt there were way too may chiefs meddling in his investigations. But in Eastvale, Superintendent Gristhorpe is happy enough to let him get on with things on his own, and Banks is a happy man.
This time around, Banks is called to the nearby village of Swainshead to look into the death of a hiker whose two-week-old remains are discovered by a wildflower enthusiast out on a hike of his own. Quickly enough, it is determined that the man’s death is a homicide – and that this is not the first murder this tiny village has seen in recent years. When Banks moves into the village’s only hotel to begin his witness interviews, he begins to realize that Swainshead’s citizens are hiding a lot of secrets – from him and from each other – and that this will be no simple investigation. Swainshead is a little self-contained world all its own, a world in which ancient grudges, out-of-control ambition, a still-powerful wealthy family, and deep-set guilt will all play their part in bringing the hiker’s killer to justice. Before that happens, Banks will spend a week in Toronto tracking down a key witness and time in Oxford where he hopes to identify the link between the murders and the person responsible for them.
Four books into the series, it is becoming clear that Peter Robinson is not particularly interested in sharing his main character’s personal life with his readers (perhaps this will change in later books). Readers know that Alan’s wife, Sandra, is supportive and that she understands his frequent absences from their home. They know that he has two children, Brian and Tracy, but they know very little about the children’s personalities or how they are coping with the move from London to the Yorkshire countryside. More times than not, the detective’s entire family is conveniently out of town during his homicide investigations, and they only return when the case is over or at some investigatory lull. After four books, the reader still doesn’t have much of a feel for who they are and what their world is like.
Bottom Line: The Hanging Valley is a complicated, but rather straightforwardly handled, murder mystery that requires the reader to pay close attention if it is all to make sense in the end. The ending itself is a bit abrupt (in an almost off-putting way), and the climax relies a little too heavily on a lot of conversational explanation from Banks to his sergeant (too much telling and not enough showing is never a good thing). By this point, Robinson may have realized just how complicated his plot was and decided that the conversation was something he needed to do to ensure that his readers were up to speed. Maybe he was right. Reply