Reader reviews for Playing With Fire

I enjoyed this book better than many in this series. Good forensics, and the personal stuff meshed with the story more to my tastes.
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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.
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“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.
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Either Peter Robinson is slipping or I am getting better at reading his mind. This was the first time since I started reading the series where I was significantly ahead of the story. I was able to discern the bad guy before the story came to the same conclusion. Now, this is only one aspect of reading a mystery, a significant one, but only one. This book, like most of the Inspector Banks series, is a good one. Well written, tightly constructed, has protagonists that you keep caring about, contains enough of the nuts and bolts of police work to educate the reader yet does not bog down in the details to bore the reader. As the previous reviewers had said, this is a story of murders and fires. The details of fire forensics is fascinating as it is. The tale that Robinsons weaves in the telling of the story is equal to the technical details. In addition, the two characters:Banks and Annie Cabbot have come to a point in their evolution within these books to become very interesting and conflicted people. They are quite flawed, as are we all, but they do their jobs and they do it well despite their flaws, as do we all. Robinson allows us a peak at Banks relationship with his ex-wife, which is prickly to say the least. Annie's new beau, too perfect ot be true. And Bank's new flame, another flawed human being. And Annie and Bank's feelings toward each other and the new people in their lives. This sounds sort of like Peyton Place, but Robinsons does a careful job of keeping it separated from the main mystery narrotive, throwing the complications in to either move the narrative along or to slow it down so the reader can breathe. All in all, he is quite successful. I am now eager to read the next story, just to see if Peter Robinson is slipping or whether I am getting better at reading his work.
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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.
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Okay, British, no humor. I lost track of the characters.
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This is an excellent read from the Inspector Banks series. Two fires deliberately set lead Banks and his team from one line of investigation to another. The victims are voluntary recluses from society and don't seem to have any personal links to give a motive. Another fire victim is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and leads to another tragic story altogether. As usual, the author has made his characters people you can associate with and even empathize with. As a side-line there is the complicated relationships with women which are an integral part of Banks' life. The Chief Inspector is himself put in grave danger as the result of the investigation and his association with a female colleague.I would recommend this series to anyone.
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Banks takes the biscuit and is reminded of his youthful dunking...I'm not sure if I've read Peter Robinson before. Probably I have, he's prolific and my wife likes Inspector Banks. I bought Playing with Fire together with Strange Affair and Not Safe After Dark from the Book People for 5 the lot. That should have been warning enough, that they were unsold clearout stock. Inspector Banks is unable to cross the room without receiving a character building flashback from every biscuit crumb, cup of tea, pint of bitter, shot of Laphroaig cask strength. When not puffing his character to bursting point the author is giving a running commentary on every piece of music that Banks is listening to in the house, car, his head, it goes on and on. I thought the characters were adequately painted after a couple of chapters but it didn't stop. This looks like the work of an author who has sacrificed proliferation for quality. If Robinson did, in fact, write this book himself then it may be an indication of what his early drafts are like before the over-detail edit. 445 pages here is probably 300 if the job had been finished. Nevertheless, still have the other two to read to ensure fairness. Perhaps it was a hiccup in his output....as he raised the blue French rustic china mug with a chip on the side that would be mouthwards if he was left handed, which he wasn't, and inhaled the heady aroma of Laphroaig cask strength taken straight, no ice, he was reminded of the smell of the burnt bodies in the charred but rusty hulls of the narrowboats that the moneyed semi-aristocratic owner had forgotten, or even didn't care that, he owned. Perhaps the killer had been left handed and left traces of DNA on the chipped surface when he drank from that same mug, thought Banks, reminding him of his left-handed Uncle Freddy who wore vintage yellow Marigold rubber gloves to weddings.... etc.
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