“If the incident had been a scene in a film, it would have looked beautiful. The violence would have taken place in elegantly choreographed silence and slow motion. Perhaps it would have started with the wedding party milling around outside the picturesque country church, then the camera would zoom in on a rose of blood blossoming from the bride’s white gown as she looks up, surprised, and floats serenely to the ground, arms reaching out, gasping for something too insubstantial to hold.”
The 24th book in Peter Robinson‘s DCI Banks series, published in 2017, Sleeping in the Ground begins with a shocking mass murder at a wedding in a small Dales church. A huge manhunt follows as Banks feels the need to dig deeper into the murders. But as he struggles with the death of his first serious girlfriend, Banks is plagued with doubts as to exactly what happened outside the church that day, and why. With the return of profiler Jenny Fuller into his life, he uncovers forensic and psychological puzzles that lead him to the past secrets that might just provide the answers he is looking for. But when the surprising truth becomes clear, it is almost too late.
With an opening scene featuring a wedding and a sniper that you’ll never forget, Sleeping in the Ground is a rain-drenched and gloomy investigation that asks the question, “What kind of person could commit this kind of mass murder?” Sparking an investigation set against the backdrop of the dreary Northern countryside, this atmospheric and chilling story sees DCI Banks forced to look into the past, whilst also having to deal with his own.
Most thrillers these days are about an inexperienced person going off on their own to solve a crime that is personal to them, facing one unsuspecting twist after the other. But it’s great to read about an actual detective doing the work, carrying out a more formal inquiry and doing all of the dirty work to establish the truth, just as it should be. Banks is a brilliant detective and you can instantly see why he is so deserving of his own TV series. Following a number of small leads to find out the bigger picture, he uses the tiniest clue or bit piece of evidence to spark a new line of inquiry to inevitably solve the case.
With meticulous research into police procedure, Robinson uses precise detail and develops the investigation brilliantly. It may not be the most engrossing work, but the proceedings, instead, feel very real, seeing the team undergoing surveillance, talking to family members, checking phone records and historical databases, and interviewing suspects at the local pub.
Having not read any of the other DCI Banks books, Sleeping in the Ground works great as a stand-alone story. The characters and relationships are easy to get to know and there is enough set up to engage you in this new case with a team who have been working together for many years. As Banks reteams with profiler Jenny Fuller, there is obviously some background information that I didn’t know about, and the same between Banks and Annie, but I never felt like I was missing out on anything.
With Fuller helping out on the case, there’s also a larger focus on trying to profile the killer, on trying to get into his mind to figure out some kind of motive. As the team attempt to paint a picture of the gunman, Jenny is convinced that they are dealing with a military-style rampage killer who has been triggered by an event in his past. This kind of in-depth and psychological approach to the investigation is really interesting as you will try to figure things out for yourself.
From the offset, Banks knows that there’s something wrong about the case, something left unresolved in the evidence they thought was finally coming together. As his investigation sends him further into the past, Banks also has to deal with his own, as the book begins with him returning from the funeral of an old flame. He is obviously pre-occupied for a lot of this case, but it’s great to learn more about him personally as the talented team around him help to bring all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
With a tense but ultimately satisfying conclusion as the killer is finally confronted, Sleeping in the Ground will not disappoint. I definitely want to read more of Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series after getting into this one.