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British Mysteries

All the Colors of Darkness, Peter Robinson, Harper Collins, $25.99.

All the Colors of Darkness by Peter Robinson

For a long time now, Peter Robinson's fine Inspector Banks books haven't just been mysteries, but novels. The longer he's written, the sharper and more keenly observed his books have become, and Banks himself is so real I've had many conversations with customers over the years about his love life and his children. Banks long ago joined the "canon" of classic police Inspectors—by all rights there should be a group meeting of Rebus, Morse, Lynley and Dalgleish—perhaps presided over by Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn, of whom they are all direct descendants.

I think the modern police novel is one of the most adept forms at dealing with the realities of modern life, as it can take into its sweep life in the workplace, family life, and relationships—romantic and otherwise—between men and women. Banks himself is a case in point—in the course of the novels he's gotten divorced, his children have grown up, and his ex-wife has remarried and had another child. In this novel he has a new girlfriend, Sophia. (I was actually a little behind on Robinson's books and e-mailed a few friends to see if Sophia was worthy of Banks. Opinion was mixed).

Robinson opens his book with an epigraph from Othello and indeed the novel develops into a thoughtful treatise on jealousy, though telling what forms it takes would be giving things away. The story begins with the discovery of a hanged man by some school boys out for a swim on a hot day. When the man's lover is also found dead, the plot of course ratchets up. This is a fairly simple story, and in other hands it might remain that way, but Robinson sees all the shades of character—indeed, "All the Colors of Darkness" as the title promises.

As the book develops it encompasses P.I. work, the MI6, trouble with Banks' boss, and a stabbing on an estate that Banks leaves to be solved by his team while he spends a bit of time in London with Sophia and works the main case off the books on his own. This has all sorts of repercussions, and late in the book is a moving and memorable action sequence that tightens both the action and the feelings of everyone involved.

As I said, I know intellectually that Banks isn't a real person, but every time I finish one of these fine books, I'm not so sure in my heart. Each book is a little look into a life that seems to be going on after you close the covers, and one that will be picked up again with the next book. There is hardly a greater gift that any writer can give to a reader.

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