Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels have been a favorite of crime readers since 1987, so it’s not surprising that Sleeping in the Ground picks up on the essentials--the dour Northern settings, DS Banks’ tangled personal life, and terrifying scenes of violence that unfold when a wedding party surrounds a picturesque country church in the bucolic town of Fortford. What starts out as a celebration of love and commitment swiftly turns brutal. Banks’ old colleague Terry Gilchrist watches in horror as a killer shoots the bride first, then the groom and the chief bridesmaid. Gilchrist just has time to look up to the grassy summit before he sees the shooter scurrying away.
Banks is returning by train from the funeral of old flam Emily Hargreaves. He’s preoccupied with Emily, the first girl he ever loved.
He’s also been ruminating on his life and career and the loneliness that comes with middle age. As Alan attempts to lose himself in sun-dappled memories of Emily and the golden days of his lost youth, Annie’s concerned phone message causes Alan to go directly to Fortford, a village swarming with police.
Amid the blood, and the death and the chaos, Alan and Annie coordinate with DC Doug Wilson, Geraldine Masterson, and Chief Superintendent Gervaise, who directs the emergency services and firearms support back at Eastvale HQ.
Alan finds it hard to believe that such horror could have taken place in broad daylight on such a joyous occasion and in such a beautiful spot. As his team work to get a fix on the victims and steer the investigation in the most fruitful direction, a witness tells Alan that he saw a black SUV parked in the same remote lay-by two days earlier. Annie informs the team that “it was something of a celebrity wedding.” Beyond the many lines of inquiry, the shooting--perhaps a terrorist attack--has become a national concern: the lone gunman, a shooting from a distance, and a country wedding in an out-of-the-way place. People are scared, and no one has any idea who the armed killer is or where he might strike next.
Visceral and atmospheric, the investigation unfolds in a way that only Robinson can orchestrate. Banks is writ large; he’s a bit bumbling but also brooding and glum.
As in the other books in the series, the Yorkshire Dales/Eastvale setting is an important character. Practically every scene is punctuated by descriptions of the rain-soaked countryside. Alan begins to feels the weight of responsibility, the team obviously depending on him for leadership and authority.
He’s positive the killer has a soldierly background. This becomes chillingly apparent when Alan’s longtime friend,
forensic pathologist Dr. Jenny Fuller, offers to help out on the case. Jenny is
convinced they are dealing with a military-style rampage killer who has been
triggered by some event in his past.
The footwork involves the team in a lot of tedious visits to the witness’s homes and to the local gun and pistol club, checking of phone records and historical databases and a lot of surveillance. While none of this is particularly suspenseful, it does add
a gritty sense of realism to the proceedings. Soon after Annie and Gerry
interview the bride’s parents, Robert and Maureen Tindall, Gerry begins digging around the violent 1964 murder of Wendy Vincent. After being repeatedly raped and stabbed, Wendy’s body was found hidden underneath branches
below a bridge. At the time, there was no mention of Maureen. When Maureen is actually revealed to be Maureen Grainer, Wendy’s best friend, Banks has a gut feeling that this is somehow connected to the current case.
Everything is rain-drenched, from the rising water under Swainsford Bridge, with its threat to sweep away cop and killer alike, to the waterlogged swathe of the Leas River. Alan
is attracted to Jenny, although he can hardly forge ahead with the assumption that she feels the same way. As the search for the killer hones in on Martin Edgeworth, a local gun aficionado, Gerry Masterson shows that she’s
a good, straightforward detective. Banks values her career prospects. She seems to be building a bond with Banks.
When she discovers that Edgeworth might not actually be the shooter, we know that she’s going to want try and to try to track down the people involved in the tenuous link between Maureen Tindall and the 50-year-old crime.
In this tense, violent novel, Robinson finally tackles the issue of gun violence
and the traumatic effect it has on Banks’ own team. It’s something of an aside in a plot, which has a lot to say about loyalty and friendship. Sleeping in the Ground manages to both have its cake and eat it, delivering a murderer’s twisted view of the world. Somewhere in this murky web of lies is the true motive for the killings. Banks, perhaps blinded by his own assumptions, at first looks like
he's missing it. Luckily, the ever-perceptive Gerry looks beyond the obvious to a crime of cold-blooded revenge originating from a life ground down by poverty, old grudges, and a long-festering animosity.