I finished Gallows View by Peter Robinson (b. 1950) this morning and I do not have good things to say about it. It was published in 1987 and is the first in his Inspector Alan Banks series of novels. This summer, for whatever reason I have been up to my elbows in crime, mystery, and suspense novels. Truth be told, there are only two that I found to be good reading. Only a couple were decent reads and then the majority, I think, were quite bad. Since I have finished this novel, I am debating with myself about whether this is the worst of the bunch or second-worst.
After reading the thing, I let the covers gently ease shut and I was frowning at it. In all honesty, if the author were in the room I would be giving him a narrowed-eyed look of deep suspicion. I mean, I do try to separate author from book, but sometimes you read a thing and cannot help but feel uncomfortable and distrusting. The entire novel is about sex and the creepiest and weirdest aspects thereof. I do not solely mean the main crime of the book (the peeping Tom) which starts on page one in a graphic way. I also mean in the utterly toxic, obnoxious, idiotic drivel of “psychology” that the characters engage in pretending to be scientific, but realistically, just playing barroom banter.
The character of Dr. Jenny Fuller – psychology professor at York University – is quite possibly the worst-written, most farcical, cringe-worthy, embarrassment of a fictional character to ever have been written. I do not know if I can truly explain how horrendous this character is, but allow me to just paint broadly and say: the character is a gruesomely heavy-handed ploy to make the novel seem edgy and balanced and feminist (to a point) and yet seem objective and modern. All of this is an absolute fail. So, that is the theory, here is the evidence: in chapter three, she is at a bar with the main character – this is how they have serious work meetings – and she is overcome in a giggling fit that includes a bout of the hiccups. The whole time, though, she has a weird “you had better take me (and my field of study) seriously” vibe. It is truly one of the most awful scenes I have ever read. I could write quite a bit about the awfulness of this whole thing, but I think my disgust is apparent.
The writing is inconsistent and stupid. For example, we are at a crime scene that is the home of an elderly lady. Her place is stuffed with cubbyholes and mantles and little shelves that are full of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, mementos, trinkets, etc. It is busy and flowery.
The house was oppressive. . . . The walls seemed unusually honeycombed with little alcoves, nooks and crannies where painted Easter eggs and silver teaspoons from Rhyll or Morecambe nestled alongside old snuff boxes, delicate china figurines, a ship in a bottle, yellowed birthday cards and miniatures. The mantlepiece was littered with sepia photographs. . . . and the remaining space seemed taken up by the framed samplers, and watercolors of wildflowers, birds and butterflies. Jenny shuddered. Her own house though structurally old, was sparse and modern inside. It would drive her crazy to live in a mausoleum like this. – pg 54, chapter 3
I found this writing to be intolerable. Absolutely awful. The author spent a lot of time describing the home and I developed an image of the place as per his guidance. And then his idiot character, Fuller, is made to say blatant illogical stupidity. I almost threw the book after I guffawed and complained to my household. I understand what the author was attempting to say, but he stupidly chose the incorrect word. Unfortunately, he literally chose the word that would lend to the opposite imagery. Have you ever been inside a mausoleum? Its brutally “sparse and modern” in most cases. It is cruelly “empty” of human touch. Sure there are sometimes small hangers with fake flowers or perhaps a small flag, but the overall scene is cold and empty and yeah, mausoleums tend to smell a bit off. I suspect Robinson meant a reliquary or menagerie – or, worse, that he meant MUSEUM and typed mausoleum.
Every character in the book is constantly drinking. The majority of their time is spent in a pub or drinking bottles of liquor. Immense amounts of alcohol are consumed in this novel. Literally constantly, by everyone: morning, noon and night. There is a gross imbalance in this sort of writing. Its too much by a lot. The characters drink whenever anything happens, they are always in the pub, half of them are always drunk, they drink before they drive – and whenever they get to their destination. Its just overboard.
Far too much of the novel is also taken up with Banks’ amazing struggle to remain faithful to his wife, Sandra. I mean, Banks is madly overwhelmed with desire from the moment he meets Dr. Fuller in the cop shop. That evening he begins their professional, working relationship at the bar across the street. And then, has her drive him to a crime scene in her car. Further on in the novel, Banks ends up at Fuller’s house and “resists” the urge to cheat on his wife. Fuller knows he is married and allegedly was just testing him. Or was testing her own assessment of him. Either way, its utterly toxic and hideous. Of course, throughout the novel, Banks avoids mentioning his collaboration with Fuller to his wife. Others (including the superintendent who requested Fuller’s presence on the case from the university) in the police force make it obvious that they suspect him of cheating on his wife. I would really like to Banks to read Matthew 5:28 if he can stay out of the pub long enough to do so……
Two young thug teenagers have begun a life of crime. They escalate their crimes from theft, to breaking and entering, to awful behavior. In one of their heists, they urinate/defecate all over the living room of the house they broke into. Things escalate further when, in the middle of a break-in, the owner comes home and finds them. The one teenager, who has never been with a woman, decides now is the time – and he rapes her. Ridiculously enough, that is how the cops catch him – he gets VD from the woman and he seeks treatment at a clinic. Seriously, the constant all-angles obsession with sex in this novel makes me uncomfortable about this author.
One would assume this is all that could be done in this little novel. Alas, I am sorry to report that there is more. One of the red herring characters is a creepy librarian with a penchant for porn magazines – a fact all the police officers seem to mention very knowingly. Further, and worse, the father of one of the teenage thugs is currently having an affair with a woman in the neighboring apartment because her husband is often out of town.
This is a nasty little town of perverts. It is not a well-written novel! I have yet read much praise for this novel and for the main character, Banks. Frankly, all the weird adultery aside, he is the most boring and dull detective that I have met in books. I am really floored and confused by all the praise it has been given. Once again it occurs to me that readers rate and review the novel that they THINK that they read or the novel that they WANTED to read and not the one they have in their paws. It is a strange disassociated delusion I think happens more than readers admit. There is nothing good I can say about this one, unfortunately, but I own book two of the Banks series and am unsure if I will read it.