Book Review: Not Dark Yet by Peter Robinson

Suspense writer Peter Robinson returns with Not Dark Yet, the 27th novel featuring the legendary detective Alan Banks in the mystery series Stephen King calls “the best now on the market.”

Not Dark Yet is the literary equivalent of the final act of a three-act play, Robinson picking up where he left off in Many Rivers to Cross. Zelda, a gifted super-recognizer, is a heat-seeking missile, determined to identify and punish the men who ruined her. Avenging her stolen girlhood won’t change the past but she’s hellbent to unravel the mystery of who sold her into sex-trafficking. N.B., Zelda is the partner of Banks’s good friend, artist Raymond Cabbot. 

Standing outside the ruined orphanage in Chișinău, Moldova, where she grew up, is overwhelming. 

Zelda couldn’t stop trembling, and the breath seemed to solidify in her chest. This had been her home between the ages of four and seventeen. This was the place that had made her what she was, or what she could have been. Now, though, it was a ruin, and so was she, and the irony didn’t escape her. What the hell was she doing here, running away from the good life she had found, despite all the odds, and from a good man, who was more than she deserved, seeking God only knew what? Revenge? Atonement? Reconciliation?

Perhaps all three. Someone sold her to sex traffickers when she graduated from the orphanage—finding them is why she returned to Chișinău. 

Revenge, along with the grip the past has on the present and future, underlies the events of Not Dark Yet. Someone(s) enacts revenge on Connor Clive Blaydon, a “crooked property developer,” and “his factotum Neville Roberts.” Blaydon, a Yorkshire businessman of dubious morals, crossed swords with Banks in Many Rivers to Cross.

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.”

Blaydon died very unpleasantly: Banks and DC Gerry Masterson found him and Neville dead. 

The post-mortem revealed that both had been shot and that, while Roberts had died of his wound, Blaydon had subsequently been sliced open from the groin to the breastbone and his body dumped in the pool. Technically, he had drowned to death because the bullet hadn’t hit any major organs and he had been using his hands to hold his intestines inside rather than to swim to safety.

Not Dark Yet is not for the faint of heart. A search of Blaydon’s mansion uncovers a “cache of spy-cams all around his luxurious home.” Instead of identifying Blaydon’s assailant, the police discover a rape. Banks’s female colleagues take the lead on finding the rapist of the girl seen on the “grainy and blurred footage.”  

On his way to his daughter’s wedding reception, Banks gets a call from “Dirty Dick Burgess.” Burgess wants to know about the progress of the Blaydon investigation. 

“I don’t want to say too much over the phone, but I think we should meet and compare notes. Are you seriously busy?”

“No. Well, yes, but . . . we’re trying to make a case against Leka Gashi and the Albanians for Blaydon’s murder. Trouble is, we don’t even know where they are.”

Burgess has asked Banks to London on false pretenses but he may be doing him a favor.  He gives him a heads-up that the powers-that-be are onto Zelda. They have evidence that she’s investigating some suspicious deaths on her own. Her activities are news to Banks: they not only endanger her, but also him. Banks is shaken, but he protests, “even if Zelda did do everything you say, she’s done nothing illegal.” Burgess pushes back.

“She is involved, and you know it. She’s up to her neck in it. Whatever it is. If just for her sake, try and focus that laser-sharp mind of yours on all that. I’m trying to help you save her from herself, not getting you to convict her.”

Banks knows he must confront Zelda, but it won’t be easy. He falls back on an adage attributed to the Duke of Wellington: “Always get over heavy ground as lightly as you can.” He sets the scene for their necessary conversation carefully, he doesn’t want them to talk in a police station. They hike and end up at a charming Yorkshire pub where they eat outside, overlooking stone walls and sheep. Banks is unable to disarm Zelda. She tells him she feels nervous.

“You don’t need to,” said Banks.

 

“Do you think I’m lying about something?”

 

Banks paused. “Let me put it this way: I don’t think you’ve told me everything. There’s something you’re holding back. Or some things.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“That’s what I want you to tell me.”

Their conversation is desultory—Zelda is by turns disingenuous, sulky, and brittle. She finally spills the beans. Banks can’t understand why she held out on him. Zelda blames it on growing up in the Soviet system: police are not to be trusted. She senses Banks is not convinced. Her next comment proves prophetic: “I’ll miss this place.” A few days after their lunch, she disappears—not voluntarily, she’s been kidnapped.

Read our review of Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson

Zelda’s kidnapping sends Banks over the edge. The last few months have taken a toll on him. He is tense, solitary, and brusque, flirting with insubordination when talking to his superiors. His family ties are important to him, particularly his relationships with his daughter and her new husband and his son. Still, at the wedding reception he comes perilously close to embodying the trope of an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Naturally, Banks’s discomfort wraps itself around music.

Banks knew he shouldn’t have done, but he drove home from the reception when the whole thing was fast becoming an endless DJ ego trip to a soundtrack of bad nineties synth-pop and electropop music.

The various investigations blur into one another as everything comes to a head. The storylines are disjointed, particularly after Banks is forced to take medical leave. Banks is under intense pressure from internal investigators to spill the goods on Zelda. They clearly don’t believe a word of his story hence his superior protecting Banks by forcing him to stand down temporarily. Does that stop his investigations? Hardly. 

Not Dark Yet is an intense but ultimately satisfying conclusion to the intricate plots that took shape in Peter Robinson’s Careless Love.

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