Sex, politics and families

Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I just finished reading Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson and Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. Both are whodunits though the latter is a courtroom drama as well. Robinson is English and Turow, American. Reading them reminded me how much British crime fiction has changed unlike its American cousin.

Turow writes about the same sleazy world as Raymond Chandler. Robinson’s milieu could not be more different from Agatha Christie’s.

Robinson develops his characters at length. We learn a lot about his hero, Inspector Banks — his failed marriage, his closeness to his two grown-up children, his romance with a colleague, his musical tastes and love of whisky. Other characters are not neglected either. The policewoman he has an affair with is portrayed  in detail. And so is his superior officer and old adversary, Chief Constable Riddle. The story begins in Riddle’s house with his eight-year-old son stumbling on a porn site which forces Riddle to ask Banks for a favour.

Banks, the knight in shining armour, obliges his old enemy. But he can’t prevent two tragedies, both in the same family. Cold Is The Grave is a must-read for fans of Peter Robinson and Inspector Banks. Something unexpected happens to a key character.

Turrow is more focused. The story is told in the first person by his hero, deputy prosecutor Rusty Sabich. His former lover — and colleague — has been murdered and the investigation falls on him. The story drags a bit in the early chapters as he obsesses over his former lover and broods over his unhappy marriage. But then comes the twist. He himself is charged with the murder. Out on bail, he carries on his investigation while his lawyer defends him in court.

Someone else, of course, turns out to be the murderer. But I wasn’t surprised when the killer’s identity was revealed. One can guess from the clues in the book.

Yet this book was the more satisfying of the two. Turow is more vivid in his account of politics and corruption. Robinson tackles those issues too. But they are not central to his story. It is more domestic. Both are stories about dysfunctional families and the mayhem they can cause. But Presumed Innocent is more interesting because it looks at the wider world.

The city hall politics and the corruption and infighting in the police department it exposes gives it a noirish cast. And that has been the staple — and part of the enduring appeal — of American crime fiction since Chandler.

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