Playing With Fire starts with two burnt narrow boats as a scene of crime. Two of three squatters living on board are found dead. An unknown artist lived in one of them, and in the other one, a young couple. The young woman, a drug addict, died in the fire but her boyfriend was away for the night and logically becomes the first suspect…

This case will prove a difficult one for Alan Banks and Annie Cabbot, whose professional relationship is strained, since Annie has a new boyfriend, an art expert, whom Banks cannot help but dislike. As for the investigation itself, they have to determine who, of the artist or the junkie, was the intended victim, the other in all likelihood a collateral damage. In both cases, the suspects are numerous: the man who lived near the barges and whose behavior is suspicious, the girl’s father in law, a book seller, etc.

For Banks himself, it is a time of loneliness, as the trouble of juggling a relationship (Banks is dating Michelle Hart, a DI he met in his latest case) becomes more and more apparent, and as he tries to come to term with the fact that his kids are grown up and living their own lives, and also with his ex-wife Sandra having a baby with her new husband Sean.

As I  have probably mentioned in earlier reviews, the inspector Banks series is one that evolved from a pleasing procedural to an exceptional and ambitious series rivaling with the greatest. The turning point for me was really Aftermath, an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Playing With Fire does not reach the excellency of Aftermath, nor of the novel after that, The Summer That Never Was, but it has come a long way since Gallows View, the first inspector Banks mystery. If the identity of the culprit does not  come as such a surprise (we are led to guess it well ahead of Banks), the characters are interesting and deep, and the shifting of points of view between both lead characters and suspects, that Robinson introduced somewhere in the series and kept, guaranties a dynamic and suspenseful narration. A very good Peter Robinson with a shocking finale!

Rating: 4/5