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Playing With Fire    by Peter Robinson order for
Playing With Fire
by Peter Robinson
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

I have yet to read any of Peter Robinson's thirteen previous Inspector Banks novels, but after Playing with Fire, I will have to do so, as many references to earlier events aroused my curiosity. This story centers around Yorkshire Chief Detective Inspector Alan Banks' investigation of two fatal fires set within two days of each other. The first involved two abandoned narrow boats moored on an isolated canal, and squatters were killed during the blaze. Upon inspection, the Fire Investigation Officer discovers that the fire was set in one boat and then spread to the other. While it looks like a local starving artist was the victim the arsonist was after, the death of the junkie in the second boat leads Banks on a personal crusade to bring a sex offender to justice.

Two days after the first fire, a caravan parked in a field is torched. The victim is a down-and-out ex-salesman who lost his job (and his wife) after committing small-time fraud. At first, the police are unsure that the arsons are related, but when sketches and a painting by a famous 19th-century artist are found in the caravan's fire-proof safe, Banks and his deputy, Detective Inspector Annie Cabot, look for a connection. When Annie's new boyfriend, an art inspector and authenticator, is called in as a consultant, he proclaims that the sketches and painting are forgeries. This strengthens the possibility of a connection between the first victim, an artist and self-admitted imitator of others' works, and the second fire's victim, a man with a business scam in his past.

The search for the killer leads to many dead ends, and new twists occur with every piece of forensic evidence, making Playing with Fire seem like an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. A major difference? Inspector Banks and team are British, leading to a few confusing moments for me, because the titles and ranks of the British police system vary greatly from those in the U.S.. Another difference is that in Robinson's world, the reader gets to view the lives of the detectives off the job. This leads to well-rounded characters. Banks is the experienced, cognitive detective at work, but at home he is rather insecure about his life and his relationships. Annie is a smart and confident detective, but sometimes lets her emotions take over when off the clock.

I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Robinson's Playing with Fire. The one thing that would have enhanced my enjoyment is a glossary of the abbreviations used in the British police force, although I assume this can be found somewhere on the Internet. I think I will go look, and then get started reading Gallows View, Robinson's first Inspector Banks Mystery, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while now.

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