‘Car­ry­ing out re­search on cou­ples who kill, like the Wests and Brady and Hind­ley... that scared me’

As his 25th DCI Banks novel is pub­lished, Peter Robin­son talks to Han­nah Stephen­son about ghoul­ish plots and why it’s get­ting harder to keep up with the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in crim­i­nol­ogy

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

Ge­nial crime writer Peter Robin­son is happy to be back on home turf again, as he cel­e­brates the 25th novel in his hugely suc­cess­ful DCI Banks series. The York­shire-born au­thor can’t quite be­lieve the an­niver­sary and ad­mits it’s be­come more dif­fi­cult to think of new plots for his fa­mous de­tec­tive, brought to life by Stephen Tomp­kin­son in the pop­u­lar TV adap­ta­tion, and his side­kick DS An­nie Cab­bot (An­drea Lowe in the TV series).

“In the last few books, I’ve looked more to­wards sto­ries that are in the news than I did pre­vi­ously,” Robin­son ex­plains. “It be­comes more dif­fi­cult, sim­ply be­cause you use up ma­te­rial with each book.”

The award-win­ning writer now lives in Toronto, but also has a cot­tage in Rich­mond, York­shire, which is cur­rently be­ing re­fur­bished. He em­i­grated in 1974 to con­tinue his stud­ies af­ter do­ing an English lit­er­a­ture de­gree at Leeds Univer­sity. He went on to do an MA in English and cre­ative writ­ing at Canada’s Univer­sity of Wind­sor, with Amer­i­can au­thor Joyce Carol Oates as his tu­tor.

For years, he only wrote po­etry and cre­ated Inspector Banks to stave off the home­sick­ness he was feel­ing, imag­in­ing him­self back in York­shire.

“At night, I would write crime just to re­lax. Be­fore crime fic­tion, I was writ­ing po­etry and had a part­time teach­ing job, which was enough to get by.”

His wife, Sheila, a lawyer whom he met in Canada af­ter giv­ing a writ­ing talk at a school her son at­tended (they’d both been mar­ried be­fore), is the first per­son who sees each new book — and his lat­est, Care­less Love, was no ex­cep­tion.

It’s the open­ing book in his first tril­ogy, be­gin­ning with two sus­pi­cious deaths — a univer­sity stu­dent dis­cov­ered in an aban­doned car on the York­shire moors and a well-dressed man found in wild moor­land, par­tially de­voured by an­i­mals. “One of the plots in­volves an old ad­ver­sary of Banks and An­nie who es­caped — you know, the one that got away — and they get some in­for­ma­tion that he’s around again. That strand’s go­ing to run through the next two books as well.” He ad­mits ad­vances in foren­sic sci­ence have made the job of the crime writer more dif­fi­cult.

“I some­times wish that I were writ­ing books set in a pe­riod be­fore DNA and the in­ter­net. It does get very com­pli­cated, be­cause you have to try to keep up with things and there’s a fair bit about so- cial me­dia in Care­less Love. To be hon­est, I’m not a so­cial me­dia per­son, so it all had to be re­searched.

“If you go back to the old days, set­ting your books in the Fifties, you’ve just got an old hand­set tele­phone, type­writer and lit­tle grey cells.”

His work reached a greater au­di­ence thanks to the hit DCI Banks TV series, which ran from 2010-16, but there are no plans for its re­turn. Robin­son says he feels sad the sto­ry­lines veered com­pletely away from the orig­i­nal books.

“They got a lit­tle bit lost there. In the last series, they killed off one of the ma­jor char­ac­ters (An­nie). I’ve had emails about that, say­ing ‘How could you do that?’ And I have to ex­plain: ‘I didn’t do it — she’s still alive in the books.’

“I knew they were go­ing to kill her off, but they didn’t want my in­put. An­drea, who plays An­nie, knew about it, too, and it was up­set­ting in some ways. I think it helped to bring about the end, but it had been a good series.”

He adds: “I thought Stephen was ex­cel­lent as Banks, when I got used to the idea of him not par­tic­u­larly look­ing like my idea of the char­ac­ter. And An­drea was great as An­nie.

“There were so many books that they hadn’t done. But one of the prob­lems was that the plots were too com­plex.”

Robin­son (68) writes a book a year, but hasn’t aged Banks in the same time­frame. The de­tec­tive is older, but not 30 years older (the first Banks novel was pub­lished 31 years ago). Yet he has changed over the years.

“Things have changed in his life, cases have af­fected him. He’s be­come per­haps more philo­soph­i­cal, more me­lan­choly. His kids have left home, he’s split up with his wife. He’s be­come a bit more iso­lated and more a lonely char­ac­ter. He’s less gre­gar­i­ous than he was in the ear­lier books.”

Set­ting your books in the Fifties, you’ve just got an old hand­set phone and type­writer

When in the UK, Robin­son loves catch­ing up with friends and get­ting a blast of the York­shire Dales. He of­ten bumps into pals, in­clud­ing Ian Rankin, Michael Con­nolly, Mark Billing­ham and Ann Cleeves, on the crime writ­ing fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

“We don’t talk about crime, we just com­plain about pub­lish­ers,” he says with a chuckle.

He says he watches too much tele­vi­sion and keeps abreast of crime drama — he loved Happy Val­ley and Line Of Duty — and when he’s writ­ing his thrillers, some­times he spooks him­self.

“Writ­ing Af­ter­math was one of the spook­i­est ones, re­search­ing the killer cou­ples like the Wests and (Ian) Brady and (Myra) Hind­ley and try­ing to as­sume that per­spec­tive to some ex­tent.

“Part of the rea­son for writ­ing that kind of book is maybe to try and make sense of how those things can hap­pen and I don’t think that I did — I don’t think I ever made sense of it. But you can scare yourself some­times, in the sense that you can give yourself a few bad dreams.”

But his big­gest fears at the mo­ment don’t con­cern the type of crime he writes about.

“My big­gest fears are po­lit­i­cal, in the sense of Trump and some of the Euro­pean pop­ulist gov­ern­ments, the Right-wing pop­ulist gov­ern­ments that we’re get­ting.

“In Canada, we’re fairly lucky. Cana­di­ans are pretty mod­er­ate. Canada’s a good coun­try to grow up in. I think cer­tainly, I fear less for my grand­daugh­ter grow­ing up there than I would if she were in the United States, be­cause it’s a less dan­ger­ous so­ci­ety.”

For now, he has no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing to the UK per­ma­nently, or of re­tir­ing. Com­plet­ing the tril­ogy will take at least an­other cou­ple of years, he reck­ons.

“Writ­ers don’t usu­ally re­tire, do they? I’ve still got a way to go to that and, as long as I can do it, I’ll keep on do­ing it.”

Crime saga: Stephen

Tomp­kin­son with Caro­line Catz in the TV adap­ta­tion of DCI Banks. Left (top) Fred and Rose West, and

Myra Hind­ley

En­dur­ing suc­cess: Peter Robin­son has just pub­lished the open­ing book in his first DCI Banks tril­ogy

Care­less Love by Peter Robin­son is pub­lished by Hod­der & Stoughton, priced £20

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