In this 23rd installment of the Inspector Banks series, Alan Banks has recently been promoted to Detective Superintendent, and has been handed a sticky case involving accusations of historical sexual abuse against a famous celebrity. The accused, Danny Caxton, is now 85, with most of the complaints stemming from the 1960’s. Banks is tasked with investigating one of the complainants, Linda Palmer, who was 14 at the time of the alleged assault.
Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Detective Inspector Annie Cabot and Detective Constable Gerry Masterson are engaged in an investigation into a murder of a young girl found naked and beaten on a country road. Eventually they identify her, and suspect she may have been subject to “grooming” by Pakistanis in her underprivileged neighborhood.
[“Grooming” is the practice of luring in minors for sexual abuse and prostitution. The problem was deemed sufficiently menacing in the U.K. that The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre was formed in 2006. In this story, the characters make frequent reference to the Rotherham case, in which widespread child sexual abuse took place in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England beginning in 1997. In 2010, five men of Pakistani heritage were found guilty of a series of sexual offenses against girls as young as twelve. An independent inquiry in 2013 estimated that some 1400 children had been sexually abused, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani men. The Home Affairs Select Committee criticized the South Yorkshire Police force for their inept handling of the abuse. Long-term ill effects, such as the increase in prejudice and blanket xenophobia, ensued.]
The story discusses in great detail the importance of public relations to the police in dealing with sensitive issues. In the case Banks is looking into, there was evidence of bribery at high levels of enforcement to shut down investigations. There was also the whole he-said-she-said dilemma, as is especially salient in cases without witnesses. Inevitably some of the police and press were suspicious that any accusers of celebrities were just after money.
In the case taken on by Cabot and Masterson, there are also a number of issues with contemporary relevance that come into play. One is the lack of options for children growing up in areas where parents are unemployed and/or absentee and/or abusive, and the failure of social services to help this at-risk population. Another is the tension between the white and non-white British population. The police don’t want to be identified as “racist,” especially since perpetrators of color are quick to invoke “the race card.” As Annie observes: “Coppers and social workers [are] so frightened of offending any ethnic or cultural group that they can’t do their jobs properly. Victims [especially girls from bad areas, are] so convinced they won’t be believed that they don’t even bother to report crimes.”
Discussion: There are things I really liked about this book. Robinson certainly can’t be accused of not presenting all sides of controversial issues, and he doesn’t do it with a lot of judgment. Thus it seems “balanced,” even though I didn’t agree with the stances taken by many of the characters. I also liked that he presented even the *non-bent* higher-ups in law enforcement in a rather negative light, having them defend each other’s authority rather than taking up what was for me a justified defense of the behavior and dialogue of the lower echelons in the force (such as Annie and Gerry). It seemed more realistic that way.
The reviews I have seen for this book have been very positive, but I wasn’t so enamored of the book. I got kind of tired of all the music references, and not just because I didn’t know who most of the groups were. I concede that a bit of that contributes toward establishing who Alan Banks is, but after a while, it just bored me, as did his forays into poetry. Clearly he is a man who prides himself on having educated himself, and continuing to educate himself, in ways other than what his background might have suggested. But for me there was too much of that, and it got tedious. I also was bored by the memoir written by the accuser of sexual harassment that she wrote at Banks’s request and which was interspersed throughout the text. I understand it was in part to evoke a time period, and to set the mood of permissiveness of the Sixties helping to explain the attitudes of police and the public, but again, to me there was a bit too much of it, and the character’s recollections were only tangentially central to the story.
In sum, for me there was a lot appealing in this book, but much I found myself skimming over. Nevertheless, Robinson is quite skilled at taking us through the permutations of police procedure and thinking, and the issues he explores are certainly timely.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2016