Synopses & Reviews
When the bodies of two squatters are found in the burning remains of a couple of derelict barges, Inspector Alan Banks has to wonder whether one of their occupations caused their deaths. One victim was a local artist, with plenty of turpentine and oil paint at hand; the other was a young woman, a junkie, who evidently shot up her final fix just before the fire started. But if the fire was an accident, why did her boyfriend bolt from the scene when the police arrived? And why did the neighbour who discovered the fire not call it in right away?
As they start their investigation, Banks and his colleague (and former lover), DI Annie Cabbot, find more than enough motives for murder - and more than one person with a reason to kill. Worse, one of the two detectives themselves discovers firsthand the seductive thrill and terrible danger of playing with fire.
In his fourteenth Inspector Banks mystery, Peter Robinson once more displays his extraordinary skill in creating memorable characters, a haunting narrative, and a subtly unveiled plot, a talent that has made him one of the best writers of crime fiction in the world today.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
is the author of the Inspector Banks novels, including Strange Affair
, which was chosen as one the best books of 2005 by the Globe and Mail
, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
and January Magazine
, and of two non-series suspense novels, Caedmons Song
and No Cure for Love
. Strange Affair
has also been shortlisted for the LA Times
Book Award for best crime fiction novel. He has also published a collection of short stories called Not Safe After Dark
. His novels have been translated into over sixteen languages, and he has won a number of international awards, including the MWA Edgar, the CWA Dagger in the Library, the Martin Beck Award, from Sweden, the Danish Palle Rosenkrantz Award,
and the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. He has also won five Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Fire, in all its forms, is a constant presence in this book: the smell of a peat fire, the warmth of the logs crackling in the hearth in a pub, the damp chill of a house with the electric bar turned off. There are references to smoke detectors, matches, and candles. How does the author use these to foreshadow events?
2. Inspector Alan Banks is the heart of this novel, as he is at the heart of the series, over which he has changed, both in circumstance and temperament. To what extent do you think that series crime fiction is really an ongoing fictional biography?
3. Why is Banks a policeman? He seems to hold contradictory views within this book. On the one hand, he muses on his love of the actual work of policing, of “getting out there and sniffing out the lie” and on the other, he refers to it as “a heart-breaking job in a demoralizing time.” What drives him professionally? Is there anything else he would be suited to do?
4. Why is Banks so angry in this book? If you have read the other books in the series, you are familiar with the complexities of mood that define him, but in Playing With Fire, he seems angrier. Why do you think this is?
5. Music plays a big part in Bankss life, providing him with apparent solace in times of depression or agitation. He also has extremely eclectic tastes. In this book he listens to a Beethoven string quartet, Bob Dylan, Cassandra Wilson, Tom Waits, Cesaria Evora, Bud Powell, and The Clash, to name just a few. Do you find that this imaginary soundtrack adds to your enjoyment of the book? What does it add to your understanding of Bankss character?
6. Banks is a bit of a bust at relationships, if his experiences with his ex-wife, Sandra, and ex-lover Annie are anything to judge by. On the other hand, he seems incapable of letting either one of them go emotionally. (Goodness knows what hes got left over for Michelle.) Yet, hes a decent, thoughtful fellow who obviously appreciates strong and interesting women. Why cant he make it work?
7. There are two families in Bankss life: his ex-wife and children, and the cast of colleagues at work. The former seems to draw deeper feeling of guilt from him than the latter, but his concern and commitment to his fellow police officers is apparently of prime concern to him. He is most comfortable, it seems, with old colleagues like Dr. Glendenning or Geoff Hamilton and even former adversaries like “Dirty Dick” Burgess. Is there something in him that can only relate to others who have been through the intense experiences that are part of the job?
8. To what extent do you think his guilt about his relationship with his own son, Brian, colours Bankss relationship to Mark Siddons? If not his son, where does this strong empathy come from?
9. Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot is another complex and interesting character with her own issues of trust, and plenty of emotional and sexual baggage from her past. How do you think she will react to the betrayal at the heart of this book? Do you think that Robinson creates a credible female character?
10. The landscape of the Dales, and of the Yorkshire towns and villages are as much a character in Robinsons books as the rest of the characters that inhabit this particular landscape. How do you think this influences the books? If you went there, do you think you would know it better because of Robinsons books?
11. There are traditional styles of mystery fiction, with the stereotypical British “cozy” at one end of the continuum, and the violent hard-boiled American classics on the other end. (Canadian crime writing has been called “soft-boiled,” lying somewhere between the two). Robinson has lived in Canada for close to thirty years, yet he writes about his home country. Where do you think his books fall on that continuum? Are they traditional British mysteries, or has his Canadian experience tempered his viewpoint.
12. There are different ways of reading a crime novel. For some readers, the puzzle is the most important part. Whodunit? is the question of the day: guessing the villain is of prime importance. Others are more interested in the Whydunit?, the insight into the roots of criminal behaviour. Others, still, read crime novels for the setting, the characters involved and the life journey they take us on. What type of reader are you? Do you think that Robinsons books are more suited to one type of reader than another?
13. In Playing With Fire, the police investigation procedures are very detailed, from the autopsies, through the routines of the most basic research and interrogation on the beat level, through the specifics of arson investigation. What are other examples of the author using these details of realistic procedures, and how do these add to the overall texture of the book?
14. There are many crimes in this book, at all levels, from banal to heinous, and many forms of “justice.” The characters in the book commit or have committed, arson, murder, sexual abuse, theft, art forgery. Some were “punished,” some not. Discuss how in the end justice was done for each of these characters, or was it not done at all?
15. What do you think lies ahead for Banks? How will the events of this book change him, and the other characters you have come to know?