Peter Robinson's durable Inspector Alan Banks is about to invade our TV screens in the guise of actor Stephen Tompkinson, better known for lightly comic or tweely sentimental roles rather than the resolute character who has graced 19 books. Actually, it doesn't matter a damn. Robinson's distinguished police-procedural series need have no truck with the vagaries of TV casting. Unlike glossier, sexier names, the Yorkshire-born Robinson (who now divides his time between Richmond and Canada) has not enjoyed the meteoric rise of other, lesser practitioners. But thriller aficionados have long applauded his succession of thoroughly authoritative crime novels, in which the very human DCI Banks (more approachable than his harder-edged rivals) has been one half of a team with the vulnerable DI Annie Cabbot.
In Bad Boy, Banks's impulsive daughter Tracy has fallen under the spell of her flatmate's handsome boyfriend, who turns out to be a very dangerous individual with, ultimately, the police on his trail. The dazzled Tracy goes on the run with him, and the grim events that follow turn into a nightmare – and not just for a worried Alan Banks (who is absent for a sizeable chunk of the novel: an innovative touch).
Hand a London reviewer a book by a Yorkshire writer, and expect to read talk of bluntness and authenticity – perhaps a comment on the metrocentric bias of most critics. Robinson has often been the recipient of this shorthand in the past, but he utilises none of the clichés. His Northerness is a subtle, understated strain, a million miles away from the professional Yorkshireman.
In truth, though, it's neither the setting nor even the characters that makes Robinson's work so satisfying, but the plotting of a Swiss-watch precision. We are treated to a masterclass in the organisation of narrative, all too rare in a field that now trades in the messiness of modern life rather than cohesion. But that's not to underestimate the centre of gravity in Robinson's books that is his doughty copper. Stephen Tompkinson may be en route to a middle age in which he assumes a David Jason-like National Treasure status (another comedy actor who ended up playing a tough TV policeman), but his success – or otherwise – is academic. The DCI Alan Banks we meet on the page is the thing, and those who love books know where the mother lode may be found.