Without a doubt, the family and friends of fictional sleuths are two of the most endangered species on the planet. Crime novelists seem to have no qualms about sacrificing the people nearest and dearest to their protagonists, if doing so will advance plot development or bestow emotional depth upon their series stars. Peter Robinson continues this ruthless tradition in Strange Affair, his tension-packed 15th novel featuring headstrong British Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. Still on the mend after the blazing finale of 2004's Playing with Fire, temporarily sworn off whiskey but back to smoking, Banks is interrupted in the midst of brooding over his life and failed relationships by a message from his estranged younger brother, Roy, who says he needs the DCI's help in "a matter of life and death." Concerned, especially since Roy boasts a history of dubious business dealings, Banks leaves Yorkshire for his sibling's home in London, only to find that residence unlocked, Roy's computer missing, and his cell phone left behind. After learning that Roy was last seen stepping into a car with an unidentified man, and receiving on Roy's mobile what appears to be a photo of his only brother slumped over in a chair, the cop fears that a kidnapping has occurred.
Meanwhile, back in Eastvale, Banks's colleague and ex-lover, Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, probes the shooting death of Jennifer Clewes, a 27-year-old family planning center administrator from London who's been found in her car, with the address of Banks's once-ruined (and recently broken into) cottage tucked into her jeans pocket. As Annie seeks to identify Clewes's attacker and determine whether this crime fits a pattern of roadway assaults, she's anxious also to discover what connection Banks may have to the case. But the DCI is frustratingly nowhere to be found.
Like 2003's Close to Home, Strange Affair adds some welcome bricks to Banks's back story, this time forcing him to reappraise a brother whom he had long resented and distrusted. Simultaneously, Robinson's latest police procedural delivers artfully contrived, intersecting story lines charged with rumors of international arms dealing, hints of misdeeds at a women's clinic, secondary players so shady they might be invisible after sundown, and insights into just how far Banks's career has distanced him from folks less steeped in the ugly side of mankind. An immensely satisfying mystery, filled with professional risks and personal regrets, this is truly an Affair to remember. --J. Kingston Pierce [via]