Playing with Fire (Inspector Alan Banks Series #14)

Playing with Fire (Inspector Alan Banks Series #14)

by Peter Robinson


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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.

About the Author: One of the best writers of crime fiction in Canada today, and among the very best internationally, Peter Robinson is the author of twelve previous Inspector Banks novels, including Aftermath, which garnered rave reviews from readers and critics. His books have won or been short-listed for numerous awards, including the prestigious John Creasy Award (U.K.), the Edgar Award (U.S.), the Martin Beck Award (Sweden), and the Arthur Ellis Award (Canada). He lives in Toronto.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060824648
Publisher: HarperTorch
Publication date: 03/01/2005
Series: Inspector Alan Banks Series , #14
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 146,237
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

One of the world’s most popular and acclaimed writers, Peter Robinson is the bestselling, award-winning author of the Inspector Banks series; he has also written two short-story collections and three standalone novels, which combined have sold more than ten million copies around the world. Among his many honors and prizes are the Edgar Award, the CWA (UK) Dagger in the Library Award, and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He divides his time between Toronto and England.

Read an Excerpt

Playing with Fire

Chapter One

The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, burn'd on the water," Banks whispered. As he spoke, his breath formed plumes of mist in the chill January air.

Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, standing beside him, must have heard, because she said, "You what? Come again."

"A quotation," said Banks. "From Anthony and Cleopatra."

"You don't usually go around quoting Shakespeare like a copper in a book," Annie commented.

"Just something I remember from school. It seemed appropriate."

They were standing on a canal bank close to dawn watching two barges smolder. Not usually the sort of job for a detective chief inspector like Banks, especially so early on a Friday morning, but as soon as it had been safe enough for the firefighters to board the barges, they had done so and found one body on each. One of the firefighters had recently completed a course on fire investigation, and he had noticed possible evidence of accelerant use when he boarded the barge. He had called the local constable, who in turn had called Western Area Police Headquarters, Major Crimes, so here was Banks, quoting Shakespeare and waiting for the fire investigation officer to arrive.

"Were you in it, then?" Annie asked.

"In what?"

"Anthony and Cleopatra."

"Good Lord, no. Third spear-carrier in Julius Caesar was the triumph of my school acting career. We did it for O-Level English, and I had to memorize the speech."

Banks held the lapels of his overcoat over his throat. Even with the Leeds United scarf his son Brian had bought him for his birthday, he still felt the chill. Annie sneezed, and Banks felt guilty for dragging her out in the early hours. The poor lass had been battling with a cold for the last few days. But his sergeant, Jim Hatchley, was even worse; he had been off sick with flu most of the week.

They had just arrived at the dead-end branch of the canal, which lay three miles south of Eastvale, linking the River Swain to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, and hence to the whole network of waterways that crisscrossed the country. The canal ran through some beautiful countryside, and tonight the usually quiet rural area was floodlit and buzzing with activity, noisy with the shouts of firefighters and the crackle of personal radios. The smell of burned wood, plastic and rubber hung in the air and scratched at the back of Banks's throat when he breathed in. All around the lit-up area, the darkness of a pre-dawn winter night pressed in, starless and cold. The media had already arrived, mostly TV crews, because fires made for good visuals, even after they had gone out, but the firefighters and police officers kept them well at bay, and the scene was secure.

As far as Banks had been able to ascertain, the branch ran straight north for about a hundred yards before it ended in a tangle of shrubbery that eventually became dry land. Nobody at the scene remembered whether it had ever led anywhere or had simply been used as a mooring, or for easier access to the local limestone for which the region was famous. It was possible, someone suggested, that the branch had been started as a link to the center of Eastvale itself, then abandoned due to lack of funds or the steepness of the gradient.

"Christ, it's cold," moaned Annie, stamping from foot to foot. She was mostly obscured by an old army greatcoat she had thrown on over her jeans and polo-neck sweater. She was also wearing a matching maroon woolly hat, scarf and gloves, along with black knee-high leather boots. Her nose was red.

"You'd better go and talk to the firefighters," Banks said. "Get their stories while events are still fresh in their minds. You never know, maybe one of them will warm you up a bit."

"Cheeky bastard." Annie sneezed, blew her nose and wandered off, reaching in her deep pocket for her notebook. Banks watched her go and wondered again whether his suspicions were correct. It was nothing concrete, just a slight change in her manner and appearance, but he couldn't help feeling that she was seeing someone, and had been for the past while. Not that it was any of his business. Annie had broken off their relationship ages ago, but -- he didn't like to admit this -- he was feeling pangs of jealousy. Stupid, really, as he had been seeing DI Michelle Hart on and off since the previous summer. But he couldn't deny the feeling.

The young constable, who had been talking to the leading firefighter, walked over to Banks and introduced himself: PC Smythe, from the nearest village, Molesby.

"So you're the one responsible for waking me up at this ungodly hour in the morning," said Banks.

PC Smythe paled. "Well, sir, it seemed ... I ..."

"It's okay. You did the right thing. Can you fill me in?"

"There's not much to add, really, sir." Smythe looked tired and drawn, as well he might. He hardly seemed older than twelve, and this was probably his first major incident.

"Who called it in?" Banks asked.

"Bloke called Hurst. Andrew Hurst. Lives in the old lockkeeper's house about a mile away. He says he was just going to bed shortly after one o'clock, and he saw the fire from his bedroom window. He knew roughly where it was coming from, so he rode over to check it out."


"Bicycle, sir."

"Okay. Go on."

"That's about it. When he saw the fire, he phoned it in on his mobile, and the fire brigade arrived. They had a bit of trouble gaining access, as you can see. They had to run long hoses."

Banks could see the fire engines parked about a hundred yards away ...

Playing with Fire. Copyright © by Peter Robinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Stephen King

“The Alan Banks mystery-suspense novels are, simply put, the best series now on the market.”

Otto Penzler

“Robinson actually seems to grow in front of our eyes, delivering books of greater complexity each time.”

Lady Antonia Fraser

“A happy discovery.”

Nevada Barr

“Stunningly complex and intricately plotted....Peter Robinson fools and entertains me with every twist.”

Dennis Lehane

The novels of Peter Robinson are: “Deeply nuanced works of art.”

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 Banks’s 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 Banks’s 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 he’s got left over for Michelle.) Yet, he’s a decent, thoughtful fellow who obviously appreciates strong and interesting women. Why can’t he make it work?

7. There are two families in Banks’s 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 Banks’s 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 Robinson’s 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 Robinson’s 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 Robinson’s 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?

Customer Reviews

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Playing with Fire (Inspector Alan Banks Series #14) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my first book by Peter R, he kept the story moving in ways that made me think about the ending--very surprising!
Lisbeth75 More than 1 year ago
This book had a lot of tension - could not put it down, like to read more from the same authore
edwardsgt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My first Peter Robinson novel, bought on a trip to Canada. Very impressed and I've read many more since. In this story, a couple of derelict barges on a North Yorkshire canal are burnt to the waterline and Banks has to find out who has died and why. Excellent sense of time and place, all the more impressive as Peter Robinson now lives in Toronto.
BellaFoxx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Playing with Fire starts with an arson, two people died. It turns into a murder investigation when it is discovered that one of the victims was drugged with a date-rape drug. The other victim was unintended. Then there is another fire, also murder. There is also follow up with the boyfriend of the other victim, investigation into allegations of abuse, Peter Robinson does a good job of continuing the two story lines in a logical manner. The characters are not cookie cutter and are very believable. He must do an incredible amount of research. I also like that each novel in the series feels like a stand-alone. He does not do the same plot, same ending, different guest stars with each book in the series.
Darrol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book better than many in this series. Good forensics, and the personal stuff meshed with the story more to my tastes.
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿The barge she sat in, like a burnish¿d throne, burn¿d on the water.¿It¿s not every policeman who can quote from Shakespeare¿s Antony and Cleopatra while surveying the carnage wrought by fire. Then again, not every policeman is Inspector Alan Banks.Playing With Fire, the fourteenth entry in the Inspector Banks series, contains everything that has made the character a popular read in mystery circles. His brash, world-weary demeanour, his passion for diverse musical selections, his love of action films, his problems with women; all are present and accounted for. It would be easy for Canadian author Peter Robinson to coast on this blueprint for a few novels, relying on reader support to carry Banks through a few less-than-stellar efforts.Luckily, Robinson is not yet ready to rest on his laurels. The multiple-award winning author has had the good fortune to be allowed the opportunity to improve over time, evolving the Banks mysteries from their admittedly minor beginnings to their current regard as distinguished police procedurals. Playing With Fire, a superior example of its kind, takes the reader for a suspenseful ride through red herrings and dead ends, escorted by the estimable talents of Inspector Banks and the spare prose and technical grace of Peter Robinson.As the tale begins, Banks is just arriving on the scene. The bodies of a young junkie and a reclusive artist have been discovered in the burnt-out ruins of two dilapidated barges. Banks, along with partner Annie Cabbot, suspects arson, yet a reason for the destruction of two seemingly lost souls is nowhere to be found. Over the course of 350 pages, suspects and motives emerge and evaporate, leading Banks into an intricate web of paedophilia, drugs, and forgers.As in all truly good mysteries, the mystery itself is secondary to the overall atmosphere of the piece, supplied in large part by locale and character. Banks¿s stomping ground of Yorkshire, England, is an inspired choice, at once familiar yet invitingly foreign. Robinson adeptly captures the nuance of local language and colour, creating an intriguing landscape of class warfare and criminal underworld, which Banks adroitly manoeuvres through.Like contemporaries such as Ian Rankin and John Harvey, Robinson also understands that without compelling characters, the readers won¿t return. Banks shares the rarefied company of Rankin¿s Inspector Rebus and Harvey¿s under-appreciated Charlie Resnick, police officers with rich, believable personal lives to compliment their professional accomplishments. Even minor and secondary characters are given moments to shine (especially suspect Mark Siddons and DC Winsome Jackman),each abundant in human frailties and passion, making the novel just that much more vibrant.However, where Rankin and Harvey fully transcend the genre, Robinson¿s latest effort falls just shy. For all the sterling dialogue, finely hued characterizations, and in-depth procedural investigation, there remains something decidedly clunky in Robinson¿s narrative. While by no means boring, the convolutions of the plot occasionally stretch credibility, with one major plot twist that would be far more at home in the absurd, low-rent soap opera `thrillers¿ of James Patterson than in Robinson¿s undeniably superior efforts.Playing With Fire is still a crackling good read, a hearty dose of grisly remains and harried detectives that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page. In an often-maligned category of literature, Robinson reminds us that good writing is good writing, no matter the genre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another winner by Peter Robinson
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love Inspector Banks
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by Robinson. It was well-written, had a good plot, and a nice selection of characters and suspects. However, it could have used more "page turner" suspense. I'll try another soon to compare.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will read more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like one other reader said a fine use of descriptives..but used them too much. I had to skip over alot of things that just didn't need to be in there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Near the village Molesby, a firefighter noticed that an accelerant may have caused the inferno that destroyed two barges and killed two people in the dead end canal. The Western Area Police Headquarters Major Crimes took over the investigation into what caused the deaths of the two charred corpses that if not for the firefighter¿s recent class and observation would have been written off as accidental deaths of apparent squatters. Inspector Alan Banks and Detective Inspector Anne Cabbot lead the inquiries. Before they leave the scene the police catch a young man Mark who says he lived on one of the burned out barge and asks if Tina escaped. He mentions a Tom lived on the other barge........................................ Banks and Detective Inspector Anne Cabbot follow up on Mark¿s alibi and soon make other inquiries trying to determine if an accident, arson, or a deliberate murder cover-up occurred. Surprisingly the investigation turns into a complex inferno as several individuals have motives and opportunities to kill either of the deceased...................................... The latest Banks investigation is an exciting tale that hooks the audience from the moment the hero quotes Shakespeare¿s Anthony and Cleopatra. The story line never slows down even when it shines on the personal lives of the lead duo as the inspectors dig deep seeking motive and opportunity on what turns out to be several prime suspects. When it comes to British police procedurals, fans know that they can always bank on Peter Robinson to provide the best.................................. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Robinson displays fine use of his descriptive abilities...over and over and over again. As a result, I found myself skipping over most sections trying to find the 'meat' of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such obnoxious jerks both protagonists are! I don't enjoy reading acout self-righteous, bullying cops (unless they get their comeuppance, and, alas, these don't). This author is so ignorant and smugly certain that cops deserve special privileges just because they are cops. This is not exactly an innovative novelistic approach. As a result, the book is boring, as well as offensive. Unless you are yourself that kind of bad cop, don't waste your money.