Over the last year and a half or so I’ve read at least two dozen crime novels, and what sets this first Chief Inspector Alan Banks novel apart from all of them is how low the stakes are for most of the book. Almost every crime novel I’ve ever read involves a murder at some point (I’m hard pressed to think of one right now, but there may be a Chandler novel without a murder that I’m just not remembering; I read most of those ages ago), and Gallows View features only a single accidental death, and for most of the novel it feels like a peripheral concern. Alan Banks’ biggest concerns (despite the accidental death of an elderly woman, which one would think takes priority, but then one would be wrong) turn out to be a Peeping Tom and a ring of thefts. Well, to be fair the thefts turn to robbery and sexual assault, at which point obviously the stakes go up and that becomes the priority, but that’s fairly late into the novel and signals a shift in the tone and sets everything that comes after it apart. If that makes any sense at all. If you’re a TV watcher at all, think more Foyle’s War rather than Luther.
Though a Canadian, Robinson shows a lot of affinity for British crime writing, and the influence of greats like P.D. James is clear, but Gallows View, at least, is not quite there. It dates itself just as obviously as the work of Chandler or Cain or even David Montrose, though it was only published in 1989. Banks consults a female psychologist named Jenny Fuller who is a member of the “women’s lib” movement, and was only brought in to appease local women’s rights activists (I was ten years old in 1989 and even I, living in a town so small people from the middle of nowhere thought of it as the middle of nowhere, knew the word feminist). Fuller is smart, strong, capable, beautiful (natch), and of course the first thing she does, as a good feminist, is to decide she wants to shag our hero, Chief Inspector Banks, and really, she doesn’t go in for all that anger and what not like the other women’s libbers, she’s got more common sense, and really blokes are just decent people who will do the right thing if you give them half a chance. She—and all the other women in the book, really—were off-putting in the extreme, if only because they seem to embody stereotypes from a generation before the book was written. Jenny Fuller was a perfectly interesting character until Robinson had to go and make her a potential, if unrequited, love interest (whom, I may add, Banks had to later go and rescue). It was still fun to read, and got quite unexpectedly energetic and exciting at the end, so I’m going to move on to Robinson’s other books eventually, but it was almost enough to spoil it altogether.
Gallows View was my ninth selection for the Fourth Canadian Book Challenge.