Playing with Fire: A Novel of Suspense

ISBN 10: 006019877X / ISBN 13: 9780060198770
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Chief Inspector Alan Banks finds himself up against a diabolical arsonist in this electrifying novel of suspense from New York Times bestselling author Peter Robinson.

In the early hours of the morning, a man reports a fire on two old canal boats. One of the firefighters notices the use of accelerant at the scene and calls the police, but by the time Inspector Banks arrives, the fire brigade have put out the flames and only the smoldering wreckage remains. A body has been found on each barge, and all the evidence points towards a deliberate arson attack.

One of the victims is Tina, a young girl with a drug addiction and a terrible past who had been living with her boyfriend Mark. The other is Tom, an artist who had been living alone. Now, with little evidence to go on and a number of possible suspects, including Tina's boyfriend, the local 'lock-keeper' who reported the fire, and Tina's own father, Banks must begin to delve into the lives of the victims, and to discover who could have wanted them out of the way forever...

From the master of psychological suspense, Peter Robinson, comes a mind-bending thriller of secrets and murder.

Review: One of the principle pleasures to be found in reading any of Peter Robinson's more recent British suspense novels is to see how dexterously this author uses seemingly small, confined crimes to wedge open much larger troves of hidden or historical chicanery. In Playing with Fire, the plot catalyst is a blaze that consumes two rotting barges moored in a Yorkshire canal, killing their squatter inhabitants--Tina Aspern, a pretty, teenage heroin abuser, and Thomas McMahon, a once-promising but "derivative" landscape painter who'd fallen on hard times. Accident or arson? The best suspects, in either event, may be Tina’s cheating boyfriend, Mark Siddons, and a rumored peeping tom who'd taken his time--and more--reporting the conflagration. However, as Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his colleague and ex-lover, Annie Cabbot (both last seen in Close to Home), gather together the disparate threads of this case, new questions arise, suggesting that the inferno was intended to cover up still worse misdeeds. Why, for instance, had McMahon been buying old books and prints from an Eastvale antiquarian dealer? Is it true, as an angry Siddons alleges, that Tina had turned to drugs in order to blot out the pain of her stepfather's carnal advances? And what tie, if any, is there between these boat burnings and the subsequent torching of a trailer home occupied by a "quiet bloke," who perished while in possession of an unknown and potentially valuable J.M.W. Turner watercolor?

As attentive as Robinson is to plot progression, spicing up his narrative with arcane knowledge about fire accelerants and competition in the painting biz ("The art world's brutal," Banks is warned early on in this story), he doesn't forget that a substantial part of the attraction of this series derives from its two evolving main characters. The contemplative, jazz-loving Banks, worried by the superficiality of his latest relationship, with a "wounded" fellow cop, finds himself increasingly jealous here of Annie's suave new boyfriend, an art researcher whose past may be short a few brushstrokes. At the same time, Annie is drawn hesitantly closer again to Banks by tragic circumstances. Although Robinson's subplot about Tina's sexual violation concludes in a rather B-movieish way, Playing with Fire is redeemed by its scorching climax and suggestively ragged denouement. Peter Robinson, together with Ian Rankin, Reginald Hill, and others, is reinvigorating the British police procedural. --J. Kingston Pierce

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Title: Playing with Fire: A Novel of Suspense
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