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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good mix of story and character
When two abandoned river barges catch fire, killing two squatters, the signs point to arson. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and sidekick Detective Investigator Annie Cabbot realize that their plans for getting away with their current love interests are shot--they'll be working overtime to track down the firebug--unless the fires were set for a reason more sinister...
Published on June 27, 2004 by booksforabuck

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Good Robinson Read
Love the character Banks...

These are the kind of books with so much detail and character development, that you could read it again.

Fortunately, Robinson is a prolific writer.

Three stars comparing it to his other books.
Published 11 months ago by Kathryn


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good mix of story and character, June 27, 2004
When two abandoned river barges catch fire, killing two squatters, the signs point to arson. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and sidekick Detective Investigator Annie Cabbot realize that their plans for getting away with their current love interests are shot--they'll be working overtime to track down the firebug--unless the fires were set for a reason more sinister than simply to see things burn. Suspicion first turns to the boyfriend of one of the victims--conveniently absent during the fire. But the young man doesn't feel right to Banks. Could it be the girl's step-father--a man suspected of sexually abusing the girl?
A second fire two nights later gives Banks and Cabbot another line to pursue--one that centers around art forgery. Because it is just possible that someone is cleaning up a mess--or a criminal network that has turned on him. Fortunately, Cabbot's boyfriend is an art professional. Unfortunately, Banks doesn't like the handsome boyfriend and the result is friction between two cops who have to work together closely.
Author Peter Robinson does a fine job developing characters and story simultaneously. Banks, with his recently ended marriage, his unsuccessful affair with Cabbot, and his current go-nowhere relationship with an out-of-town cop, remains sympathetic as he tries to track down the criminal--and to keep his feelings toward Cabbot's lover from veering into jealousy. Detours into the point of view of the young man initially suspected of arson add to the story's atmosphere.
I thought that the solution became a bit too obvious a bit too soon--and some of Banks' decisions seemed irrational, but overall, PLAYING WITH FIRE was an engrossing and enjoyable read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing page-turner, February 12, 2004
By 
SDRTX (Plano, TX United States) - See all my reviews
Appropriately, PLAYING WITH FIRE starts out with a fire. On a cold winter morning on the dead-end branch of a Yorkshire canal, two barges burned. Two victims were found. The fire looks suspicious, but the question is who was the intended victim. One victim was a painter who felt his art was unappreciated and the other a young sexually abused girl who was hooked on drugs. Chief Inspector Alan Banks is summoned to investigate the crime. It is not long before another fire breaks out in a remote trailer. There seems to be a serial arsonist on the loose. Secrets and lies are uncovered as Banks and his partner D.I. Annie Cabot work toward discovering the truth.
This story was extremely fast moving and hard to put down. Peter Robinson has created a brilliant plot for PLAYING WITH FIRE. It was complex, but very straightforward. Robinson does not rely on misdirection to create suspense, but rather a slow build-up of facts that rush the reader through a roaring crescendo toward the climax. There are a few loose ends that do not deter from the overall enjoyment of this novel. hopefully, some of the points will be addressed in the next Banks installment. This is a first rate British police procedural and a must read for anyone who appreciates quality.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book and addition to the series, January 22, 2004
Playing with Fire is that rare beast; a Peter Robinson novel that hasn't had its titled bashed about for North American markets which is rather refreshing. And, of course, considering that title, it is full of fire, destruction, conflagration (physical and emotional) as well a new burning power in the writing itself too, which makes the book possibly Robinson's strongest, most cunning plotted mystery yet, if perhaps not the most "meaningful" or innovative.
It begins, of course, with flame. In the wee hours of a cold January morning (the chill of the climate and atmosphere is a brilliantly effective contrast to the searing fires of the plot) two narrow-boats are found burning on a lonely stretch of a Yorkshire canal. When the fire-fighters have done their work, the investigators move in, and two dead bodies are found in the remains, blackened and burnt. And, of course, in the best traditions of the murder-mystery, traces of accelerant are found.
However, which was the intended victim? Tina, the drugged out young girl living with her boyfriend on one boat, or Tom, the lonely, seemingly reclusive artist who lived on the other? As Robinson's well-seasoned protagonist Chief Inspector Banks sets the investigations in motion, the threads tangle and the case proves to be every bit as complex as it promised at the start. And this particular twisted firestarter is not done yet...
Peter Robinson is remarkable; with every single book for about 6 years, he has been continuing to expand his series, smashing down boundaries, reaching new heights with every single book. While once his reflective Inspector Banks novels were simply nice little procedurals to while away an evening, lately they have become something far more remarkable, and he has moved into the front rank of male crime writers, alongside Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly in writing moving, artful crime novels that shed light on all aspects of human experience. There are so many things to recommend him, not least his evocation of landscape and ability to probe the very human depths of every single characters instinctive motivations. He plots as if he were born to the genre, and his protagonist Banks is a true marvel. Less of a tough-as-nails guy than Bosch or Rebus, Banks is thoughtful, moral, reflective and, dare I say it, not startlingly interesting on the surface (but, of course, therein lies his shining humanity) and in Playing with Fire there are enough personal trials for him to deal with to satisfy any connoisseur of fascinating protagonists. The other human aspects of this book are incredibly well-done; moving and expansive, Robinson reaches out to all his characters, taking them gently by the hand and leading them to the reader, in sometimes shocking ways.
The cracking, multi-faced plot is in itself engaging and clever, with surprises and shifts in tone and pitch that elevate it far above the average. If this fourteenth entry in the series doesn't line itself up for several international awards, I'll eat my proof copy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another terrific read from Peter Robinson, August 13, 2004
By 
Suz (Rocky Mountains USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I've been a fan of this series for a long time. Which means I now hold my breath when the newest Inspector Banks novel is published, fearing that this one may mark the start of a decline. The good news is, I was able to release that breath with relief.

Robinson just keeps on writing wonderful novels, managing to deliver police procedurals within the meaning of the Act - to borrow a Brit phrase - while pushing the envelope and managing to make us guess about more than whodunit.

In this book Banks and his team are investigating some grisly fire deaths - and they are up against a very clever fiend indeed. The villain is well-drawn, as are most of the characters Robinson puts in our path as the story rocks along. I couldn't put it down, and I can't wait for the next Banks book!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His best in a while......, October 12, 2004
This is just about the best mystery I've read in a while and approaches the quality of IN A DRY SEASON, which Robinson wrote a few years back. The author does a great job of developing a tight plot with a few twists and turns that may surprise the most dedicated mystery lover. Robinson also further develops his the main characters Alan and Annie, as well as introducing a six-foot tall Jamaican immigrant female police officer who is bound to turn up again (one hopes!).

Several mystery writers have used fire as a "character" in their novels including Patricia Cornwell, P.D. James, and Elizabeth , so you might think Robinson could not come up with something very different, but he does. He crafts a new and from my perspective particularly horrible slant as he merges perspective of the victim, the art world, old and new friendships, and the ongoing development of the relationship between Annie and Alan.

For ages, female mystery writers have created and directed the exploits of male investigators. Robinson turns the tables, very effectively as he explores the psyche of Annie who is becoming almost as likeable as Harriet Vane. Robinson shows that females don't have to be dumb bunnies who are rescued from the jaws of death after they stupidly play into the killer's hands - sometimes the male needs rescuing. I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, reading past my bed time to finish it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Outstanding Inspector Banks Book, March 1, 2004
By 
Untouchable (Sydney, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
This is the 14th book in the outstanding Inspector Banks series. This is a series that relies not only on high quality mysteries to make it interesting but extremely engaging characters whose lives develop before our eyes. The main characters in the series, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his second in command Detective Inspector Annie Banks return once again and pick up from where they left off last time. As a series, it's usually a good idea to read the books in order, although in this case I think it could be read as a stand-alone without missing out on too much valuable information.
But on to what actually happens in the book itself. The case that has Banks and the other members of his Western Area Headquarters, Major Crimes Team out in the middle of the night is an arson attack on two derelict barges. It's soon apparent that among the burning wreckage lie two bodies, prompting the case to be investigated as a double homicide.
On the surface there is no obvious reason why someone should set fire to a couple of broken down barges. The fact that they were homes to squatters at least gives Banks some leads to follow. Then, the pace accelerates when a second arson attack takes place in a caravan located less than 10 miles from the first fire.
What starts out as a seemingly straightforward case of arson soon becomes more complicated once some connections between the two fires are made. Thanks to one of the victims turning out to be a local artist, it looks more and more likely that the crime they are investigating could have something to do with art forgery.
A part of the investigation that I found particularly fascinating was the work done by the Fire Investigation Officer Geoff Hamilton. Apart from the sardonic wit and gruff attitude of the man himself, the actual process of sifting through the ashes in order to determine whether the fire was deliberately lit, where it started and when it may have been started was told in a detailed and very interesting fashion. Call it the fire-bug in me but I found this part of the investigation enthralling.
There really isn't a lot in the way of new ground to be forged when dealing with police procedural stories. A crime takes place, the police arrive, work the scene, gather evidence, send it to forensics, perhaps attend an autopsy and conduct a heap of interviews. So what makes this such a fresh and interesting story is the strength of the characters, their substantial backgrounds and the dialogue that rings true.
Alan Banks in particular is a very engaging character, as one would hope being the main protagonist in the story. There is obviously a personal history between himself and Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, and I'm guessing that this would have been covered in one (or more) of the earlier books in the series. While it does create a little bit of tension between the two of them while working the case, it merely adds to the depth of their characters. Banks' love of a glass of Laphroaig Scotch whilst relaxing to one of his many jazz CD's of an evening sounds to me like the perfect way to end each day and epitomises the laid back nature of the man.
As the investigation progresses, the pace of the book increases subtly until we are faced with quite a dramatic ending, serving to top off a very satisfying story. Enough of the case is solved to provide a satisfactory ending, while enough loose ends remain to ensure that there will be something to pick up in the next book in the series.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NUMBER 14 AND STILL GOING STRONG...., June 4, 2004
DI Annie Cabbot isn't feeling well, but arrives at the crime scene like a trooper. There she finds two burnt barges and Inspector Alan Banks. Annie and Banks have a history, but are now involved with other people. Despite their past, their respect for each other keeps their present relationship civilized.
The detectives have a double homicide. The woman was a drug addict and the man, an artist. At the scene Banks spies someone in the woods, watching. They catch Mark and learn that he lived with the drug addict, Tina. Mark's love for Tina seems real, and Banks takes pity on him. Throughout the storyline, Mark chases his own demons, and readers learn of his and Tina's sad stories.
Banks is determined to solve this one. Suspects and clues move into place, only to be shifted in the wind and smoke of a burnt caravan and a new victim. Cabbot heads in one direction and Banks in another. Hopefully their paths will meet up and solve this before another homeless person succumbs to the arson's match.
_Playing with Fire_ is number fourteen in the Banks series. It doesn't have the calculated, coldness of _Aftermath_, but the storyline is complex, nonetheless. Readers will be just as surprised at the shocking conclusion as Banks, Cabbot and the Yorkshire Police.
Robinson pushes the envelope in his series. His characters go from one extreme to the other, and there isn't a subject too sacred to be drawn on. Robinson's Inspector Banks series rivals Dexter's Inspector Morse, and that is one reason I recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing characters and an intriguing plot, March 16, 2004
By 
Character, plot, pace and prose - those are what make Edgar-winner Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks novels so compulsively readable.
Certainly they are character driven: Alone again with his music and his Laphroaig, his wife remarried, his romance with colleague Annie Cabot over, Banks struggles with loneliness and a visceral antagonism toward Annie's new love interest. He's passionate, but not self-absorbed; instinctive but not reckless. And Annie: younger, a bit less certain of herself, leery of Banks' baggage, a bit defensive about her new romance, wavers between assertiveness and stubbornness and can't always tell the difference.
And then there's the plot. Fire is a fascinating, scary medium and yields great forensics. The story begins with two live-aboard barges set ablaze, a dead artist on one, a dead junkie on the other. Had the junkie's apparently grief-stricken boyfriend snapped? Had the failed artist crossed his unidentified visitors? Had the junkie's abusive stepfather shut her mouth for good? Then another suspicious blaze kills a lonely man in his isolated trailer on the other side of town and the questions multiply.
The pace mixes technical forensics, police procedure, and personal interaction in a suspenseful flow that relies on engagement rather than breakneck action. Shifts in point of view add further dimension. And the writing - atmospheric and nuanced - is as graceful as ever. Robinson ("Close to Home") has another winner.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for children, February 4, 2004
By 
Fred Camfield (Vicksburg, MS USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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The plot deals with several murders, and gives graphic descriptions of dead bodies including badly burned corpses and a man splattered by a shotgun blast. It also deals with autopsies and the smell of death. Not for the faint at heart.
There is collateral damage as the plot develops. If you are looking for a novel where the main villain is punished you will be disappointed. Some characters get more than they deserve as punishment for misdeeds, and some go unpunished.
This is a complex plot, dealing with topics ranging from pedophilia to stolen identities. It makes you wonder if you really know the people around you. It also explains why many police officers drink, some heavily, considering what they must deal with in the course of investigations, and why they may be inclined to get a bit rough on the assumption that the suspect must be guilty of something.
The plot is a little unfinished as some people seem to just drop out of sight. In the words of Shakespeare, some people vanish into thin air. One can wonder what happened to Mark.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks number 14: Back on Form, June 17, 2005
This novel kicks off with a highly suspicious fire that destroys a couple of barges and kills two people, the rather washed up failed artist who lives on one and the young heroine addict who lives on the other. Banks and Annie Cabot handle the investigation, their strained relations after breaking up a couple of books ago not helped by Banks instinctive dislike of her new boyfriend. Incest and art forgery feature heavily in the various cans of worms their investigation leads them to open. It's great fun and a decided return to form after the disappointing previous instalment.
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