Book Review: Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson

In Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson, Inspector Banks is dragged into a disturbing world of drugs, guns, and possible sex trafficking. 

Like many long-running series, open-ended storylines are a feature of the Inspector Banks mysteries. Not every investigation is tied up with a neat bow on the last page. Careless Love, the last Inspector Banks novel, sees the return of “Bank’s nemesis, Keane, a criminal who tried to kill him.”  Zelda, the “much-younger live-in girlfriend” of Banks’s longtime friend Raymond Cabbot spotted Phil Keane in the course of her part-time work “looking at surveillance photos and videos” at the National Crime Agency in London.

Her work is a window into persistent evil in the world, like sex trafficking. Zelda knows personally of such horrors, telling Banks that there are many “men for whom human life or happiness means nothing.” Banks knows he is fortunate to be alive, but he’s concerned that Zelda’s inquiries will endanger her.

What Banks doesn’t know is that Zelda witnessed Keane talking to Mr Hawkins, her boss at the NCA. Zelda has a preternatural ability to recognize and remember faces: she’s positive in her ID. Zelda’s old friend Mati also has a horrific history of abuse and cruelty at the hands of ruthless men: she doesn’t understand Zelda’s reluctance to speak up.

‘I realised that if I said anything about what I had found out, they would take over. The police.’ 

 

‘But aren’t you police now?’

 

‘No. I’m a civilian. They make that quite clear. I have no police powers. Not that I want any.’

 

‘Surely they’re the best people to do the job? Unless you want your own revenge?’

What a perceptive question. Zelda has no love for the police because corruption in the ranks affected her cruelly back in the day, but she respects Banks’s intuition and insight. She tells Mati, “sometimes I think he knows that I’m keeping something back.” 

Banks doesn’t dwell on Keane’s reappearance: there’s always a new case to be solved in North Yorkshire. “The body of a teenage boy is found stuffed into a wheely bin on the East Side Estate,” and Detective Superintendent Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are called to the crime scene. The ethnicity of the teenager bumps a random murder into something potentially more complicated. Dr Burns, the police doctor in attendance, points out to Banks that a Middle Eastern, dark-skinned victim is unusual “around these parts.”

‘True enough,’ Banks said. ‘I was just thinking about that, myself. It’ll make identifying him either easy or bloody impossible. Either way, we’d better brace ourselves. I have a feeling this is going to be a big case.’

With Banks’s track record, he’d be wrong to discount his feelings. The unfortunate young man worked for the local bad guys as a low-level drug mule. The tentacles of the drug trade stretch upward into other nefarious activities, leading Banks to consult with DI Joanna MacDonald: has he ‘ever heard of a man called Blaydon’? Surveillance photos reveal that Blaydon runs with very insalubrious associates—foreigners from Albania and “other Balkan states” who are involved with drugs, guns, and “possibly sex trafficking.”

Banks thought of Zelda. ‘I know someone who might be able to help you with any pictures you haven’t identified yet. She knows the sex traffic world inside out, and she’s a super-recognizer.’

Inexorably, Banks’ investigation takes on a wider and wider footprint. 

Artist Raymond Cabbot is in New York City, working the business side of his art, so Zelda heads to London: “Zelda knew that something was wrong the minute she entered the lobby of the unassuming building on Cambridge Circus late that Monday morning.” An officious couple, Paul Danvers and Deborah Fletcher invite Zelda into Hawkins’ empty office to interrogate her. Paul is a patronizing bastard thinks Zelda, but Deborah fills her in.

‘Trevor Hawkins is dead,’ she said. ‘Suspicious circumstances. We’re questioning everyone who works here.’

It seems Hawkins died in a “chip-pan fire.” English is not Zelda’s first language, so she asks for clarification. Hawkins, likely “the worse for drink,” fell asleep after he put a “pan full of oil on the burner to heat up.” Zelda is not convinced. Hawkins collected gourmet magazines, checked out “well-reviewed new restaurants,” and in her opinion, had never had “fish and chips in his life.” She embarks on a little sleuthing on her own. Spoiler alert: she sees Petar Tadić in London, the man who forced her into sex trafficking. It has been said that “a man who desires revenge should dig two graves,” a sentiment with which Zelda’s friend Mati would surely agree. Zelda’s zeal for revenge is all-consuming. 

Back in Yorkshire, even as he deals with an increasingly complicated local criminal conspiracy, Bank worries about the pedigrees of the nasty players involved. How far does their influence reach?

But Banks’s attention is also on Zelda, who in helping him track down his old enemy, has put herself in danger and alerted the stone cold Eastern European sex traffickers who brought her to the UK.

Many Rivers to Cross is a complicated and somber thriller. The crimes described are not easily forgotten: they seem to have real-life parallels. And as was the case in Careless Love, the story ends in a riveting and disturbing fashion. To be continued!

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