Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Peter Robinson has contributed a great deal to the world of crime fiction, and his Alan Banks series is a terrific example of a police procedural series. So it seemed only right to turn the spotlight on an Alan Banks book for this feature. Let’s take a closer look today at the first Banks novel, Gallows View.
DCI Alan Banks and his wife Sandra have recently moved from London to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale with their children Tracy and Brian. All of them are hoping that the change from Banks’ fast-paced and stressful job in London to the slower pace of Yorkshire will be good for the family. After all, how much crime can be there be in Yorkshire? The Banks family settles in reasonably well; Sandra gets involved with a local Camera Club, and the children get involved in school activities and clubs. They haven’t been there long, though, when a voyeur begins to make life miserable for several women in the area. Superintendent Gristhorpe is concerned that the peeping may escalate to something worse. Besides, public opinion, especially that of local militant feminist Dorothy Wycombe, has made it politically necessary to catch the culprit as soon as possible. So Banks and the team are asked to work with psychologist Dr. Jenny Fuller to find out who’s responsible for the peeping incidents.
As if that’s not enough, there have also been several break-ins lately. Those break-ins are put down to the work of teens looking for money and drugs, and they’re escalating, too. Matters come to a head one night when Alice Matlock, an elderly local resident, is killed. At first, it looks as though she was murdered by the same people responsible for the break-ins. But Banks begins to wonder about that since some aspects of the murder scene are different from the break-ins. Now, Banks and his team have to solve the murder as well as the series of break-ins and find out who the voyeuer is before the peeping escalates. As they look into the crimes, they also look into the private lives of several of Eastvale’s residents, and we learn about the interesting, quirky and sometimes dark people who live there. In the end, we find out how the peeping cases, the break-ins and the murder are all inter-connected.
Several elements are intertwined throughout this novel. One of them is Banks’ status as an outsider in Yorkshire. He and his family are from London, and it’s clear that they are regarded differently by the locals. Here, for instance is the opinion of local teenager Trevor Sharp:
“There was that hotshot copper from London, Banks, who'd got his picture in the local paper when he'd got the job a few months back”
Sandra, too, has had a period of adjustment:
“In London, Sandra had never been short of lively company, but in the North the people had seemed cold and distant until Harriet came along, with her pixieish features, her slight frame and her deep sense of compassion. Sandra wasn't going to let her go.”
We see the cultural differences between Banks and his second-in-command, Sergeant Hatchley, as they investigate the cases. For example, when Hatchley is interviewing one of the victims of the peeper, he makes a few undiplomatic remarks about the peeping and gets into trouble for it. Banks is told to reprimand him and do whatever it takes to settle the matter. He interviews Hatchley about it and we can see during the interview that the two men have very different views. Hatchley sees his remarks as just having fun, and as expressing interest in the victim (on whom he’s had his eye for some time). Banks sees them as inappropriate and unprofessional. In the end, the two men work the situation out, but we can see during this conflict that Hatchley’s status as a local gives him a very different perspective from that of Banks. That conflict between locals and outsiders adds an interesting undertone to the novel.
Another element that we see in Gallows View is the issue of women’s rights and responsibilities. When Jenny Fuller begins to work with Banks on the peeping incidents, the two see those events in different ways:
“’Let me help. Do you think the women ask for it, by the way they dress?’ It was a loaded question, exactly the one he had expected. [Jenny Fuller]
‘They might well be inviting someone to try and pick them up in a normal, civilized way’ he answered, ‘but of course they're not inviting voyeurs or rapists, no.’ [Banks]
He could tell that she approved by the way she looked at him. ‘On the other hand," he went on, just to provoke her, ‘if they walk in dark alleys after ten o'clock at night dressed in high heels, miniskirts and low-cut blouses, then I'd say they were at least being foolish, if not asking for something.’
‘So you do think they ask for it?’ she accused him, green eyes flashing.
‘Not at all. I just think that people, especially women, ought to be more careful these days. We all know what the cities are like, and there's no longer any reason to think a place like Eastvale is immune from sex offenders.’
‘But why shouldn't we be able to go where we want, when we want and dressed how we want?’
‘You should. In a perfect world. This isn't a perfect world.’”
That debate about women is an important theme in this novel.
Another element woven into this story is the small-town setting. The crimes take place in and around Eastvale, so we learn quite a bit about the residents and their lives. We also get a strong picture of the changes in small-town lives that technology and other postwar developments have brought. For example, postwar housing has changed the traditional “village” feel of Eastvale. Along with cottages, shops and so on, there is also public housing:
“Banks could make out the town's limits: beyond the river, the East Side Estate, with its two ugly tower blocks, sprawled until it petered out into fields, and in the west, Gallows View pointed its dark, shriveled finger toward Swainsdale.”
It’s interesting, too, to see how the lives of those who live in Gallows View and East Side Estate are different from the lives of other residents.
More than anything else, though, Gallows View is a police procedural. So we see the long hours, the tedious and sometimes unpleasant tasks, and the stress that is police work. Readers follow along as Banks and his team find clues, put pieces of evidence together, interview people and solve the crimes. Banks is no superhero, nor do these cases get solved by magic. They are solved by the efforts of a disparate team of people who work together and come to respect each other’s skills.
But what’s your view? Have you read Gallows View? If you have, what elements did you see in it?
Coming up on In The Spotlight
Monday 25 October/Tuesday 26 October – While My Pretty One Sleeps – Mary Higgins Clark
Monday 1 November/Tuesday 2 November – A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
Monday 8 November/Tuesday 9 November – In a Dark House – Deborah Crombie
On Another Note…
I hope you’ll pay me a visit tomorrow when I’ll be sharing an interview that thriller author Leigh Russell was kind enough to grant me. She’ll be talking about her novel Cut Short, which was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger, and her other work as well. I’m quite honoured that Leigh offered to answer some questions, and I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation.