DCI Alan Banks is well aware that investigations require precision. Evidence at a crime scene must be meticulously analyzed and recorded. In Many Rivers to Cross, Banks is called to Malden Road, on the western edge of the East Side Estate where a teenage boy has been found stuffed in a wheelie bin in a back alley. Stab wounds are most likely the cause of death. As the officers begin to canvass the whole of the East Side Estate, Banks learns the youth is Middle Eastern--strange considering there's a "white belt" between industrial West Yorkshire and Teeside. A victim of a terrible murder, there's nothing on him but a small quantity of cocaine in his pocket.
Lead investigators DS Jackman, DC Masterson and DI Annie Cabot proceed with caution, well aware of the racial insensitivities in the case. The investigation into the boy's murder is overshadowed by Banks's friend, intelligence gatherer Zelda, and her search for her arch-enemy Goran Tadic (Zelda and Tadic's back story is detailed in the previous novel, Careless Love). Tadic was one of the men Zelda escaped from, who first took her "and broke her in." Defying Alan, Zelda makes the decision to travel to London on the trail of Phil Keane, who is linked to Goran's brother, Peter Tadic.
Banks moves between two different narrative threads: the murder of the Eastvale boy Samir and Zelda's search for Tadic. For this revenge you would risk everything? Zelda has made a life for herself with Annie's father. Is she willing to risk her freedom to exact revenge on Tadic? Zelda is haunted by the Balkan wars of the '90s. She wants to stay in Yorkshire, isolated from the rest of the country, but for her it's all about following your heart and not letting it rule your head--even when your head senses danger.
The investigation leads the team into the orbit of Connor Clive Blaydon, a local criminal who dabbles in drugs, guns, prostitution and murder. Blaydon uses local club owners Timmy and Tommy Kerrigan as middlemen. No one will talk, though Banks has a dead boy on the East Side Estate around the same time as Connor Clive Blaydon's Merc was spotted in the area. Blaydon is a known gangster, so it wouldn't be surprising for him to recruit teenage boys. Banks doubts the boy is local; nobody on the estate admits to recognizing him ("no money no belongings, no identification, and no keys"). Did someone plant the coke on his body to misdirect the police? Was the killing nothing to do with drugs?
At first London feels bearable for Zelda. She reads lurid potboilers while ruminating on how to find Keane, "a means to an end." Back in Eastvale, Banks is called to Hollyfield Lane where the victim of drug overdose--a man who looks to be in his late sixties--appears to have links to the dead boy. It seemed apparent at first that the killer wanted to delay the discovery of the victim's identity for as long as possible. From the East Side Estates, Blaydon and the Kerrigans to a dead junkie and the murdered boy "all in the same night on the same small town," Banks is ready to defy his bosses in the search for truth. Zelda is left alone to confront a high-powered criminal enterprise that creates corruption on as wide a scale as it can. The memories and associations are simply too disturbing: "when your body becomes a plaything for monsters, you come to hate it." After a false start and a misidentification, Banks digs further, resulting in a thriller-type climax in which Winsome, Gerry and Annie prove their mettle, perhaps rashly but still bravely.
The novel works well as a thriller, and as usual with Robinson, there's an added pleasure in the London setting and the fictional city of Eastvale. The action moves fast, though Banks is occasionally preachy in his love of music. Though the pace is sometimes slow, a violent finale materializes. There are vicious scenes involving Zelda's revenge tied to the many rivers of her past, but this enriches the reader's eventual satisfaction at the end of this always reliable tale.