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Fiction General

All the Colours of Darkness

by (author) Peter Robinson

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
May 2009
General, Police Procedural
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2009
    List Price

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The eagerly awaited new novel from Canada’s top crime-fiction writer.

It’s the May half-term school holiday, and the first warm day of the year has drawn a few children to the River Swain for a swim. When one boy chases another off the path that runs alongside Hindswell Woods, a glimpse of orange through the trees tempts them into the shadows. Moments later, their high spirits vanish in an instant, for there, to their shock (and ghoulish fascination), they find a man in a brightly coloured shirt hanging from a branch by a rope around his neck. Alan Banks is in London with his new girlfriend when news of the kids’ ghastly discovery reaches the police in Eastvale, so the case falls to Annie Cabbot. And she’s mystified. Why would a successful set and costume designer, with a well-reviewed production of Othello currently playing, be in such despair that he would take his own life?

In All the Colours of Darkness, Peter Robinson has written an exceptionally gripping and intricately plotted story that delivers hard truths about jealousy and betrayal — and of the insidious, corrosive power of secrets. Once more, Robinson proves that he is one of the finest crime-fiction writers in the world.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Yorkshire-born Peter Robinson, who now lives in Toronto, is one of the world’s top writers of crime fiction and winner of numerous awards, including the United States’ Edgar Award, the British Dagger in the Library Award, France’s prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz Award, and, in Canada, several Arthur Ellis best novel awards.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt: All the Colours of Darkness (by (author) Peter Robinson)

Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot thought it was a great shame that she had to spend one of the most beautiful days of the year so far at a crime scene, especially a hanging. She hated hangings. And on a Friday afternoon, too.

Annie had been dispatched, along with Detective Sergeant Winsome Jackman, to Hindswell Woods, just south of Eastvale Castle, where some schoolboys spending the last day of their half-term holiday splashing in the River Swain had phoned to say they thought they had seen a body.

The river ran swift, broad and shallow here, the colour of freshly pumped beer, frothing around the mossy stones. Along the riverside footpath, the trees were mostly ash, alder and wych-elm, their leaves a pale, almost translucent green, trembling in the faint breeze. The scent of wild garlic filled the air, clusters of midges hovered over the water, and on the other side the meadows were full of buttercups, pignut and cranesbill. Tewits twittered and flitted back and forth, nervous about people encroaching on their ground nests. A few fluffy clouds drifted across the sky.

Four schoolboys, all aged about ten or eleven, sat hunched on the boulders by the water, draped in towels or damp T-shirts, strips of pale skin, white as tripe, exposed here and there, all the spirit crushed out of their joyous play. They’d told the police that one of them had chased another off the path into the woods above the river, and they had stumbled upon a body hanging from one of the few oaks that still grew there. They had mobiles, so one of them dialled 999 and they waited by the riverside. When the police patrol officers and the ambulance crew arrived and took a look at the body, they agreed there was nothing they could do, so they stayed well back and radioed for the heavy brigade. Now it was Annie’s job to assess the situation and decide on what action should be taken.

Annie left Winsome to take statements from the kids and followed the patrol officer up the slope into the woods. Through the trees to her left, she could see the ruins of Eastvale Castle high on its hill. Before long, just over the rise, she caught a glimpse of a figure hanging from a length of yellow clothesline on a low bough ahead of her, its feet about eighteen inches off the ground. It made a striking contrast to the light green of the woods because it — Annie couldn’t tell yet whether the shape was a man or a woman — was dressed in an orange shirt and black trousers.

The tree was an old oak with a gnarled, thick trunk and knotty branches, and it stood alone in a small copse. Annie had noticed it before on her walks through the woods, where there were so few oaks that it stood out. She had even made a sketch or two of the scene but had never translated them into a fully fledged painting.

The uniformed officers had taped off the area around the tree, into which entry would be severely restricted. “You checked for any signs of life, I assume?” Annie asked the young constable making his way through the undergrowth beside her.

“The paramedic did, ma’am,” he answered. “As best he could without disturbing the scene.” He paused. “But you don’t have to get that close to see that he’s dead.”

A man, then. Annie ducked under the police tape and inched forward. Twigs snapped under her feet and last autumn’s leaves crackled. She didn’t want to get so close that she might destroy or contaminate any important trace evidence, but she needed a clearer idea of what she was dealing with. As she stopped about ten feet away, she could hear a golden plover whistling somewhere near by. Farther up, towards the moorland, a curlew piped its mournful call. Closer by, Annie was aware of the officer panting behind her after their trot up the hill, and of the lightest of breezes soughing through leaves too fresh and moist to rustle.

Then there was the absolute stillness of the body.

Annie could see for herself that he was a man now. His head was closely shaved, and what hair remained had been dyed blond. He wasn’t twisting at the end of the rope, the way corpses do in movies, but hanging heavy and silent as a rock from the taut yellow clothesline, which had almost buried itself in the livid skin of his neck, now an inch or two longer than it had originally been. His lips and ears were tinged blue with cyanosis. Burst capillaries dotted his bulging eyes, making them appear red from where Annie was standing. She guessed his age at somewhere between forty and forty-five, but it was only a rough estimate. His fingernails were bitten or cut short, and she saw the cyanosis there, too. He also seemed to have a lot of blood on him for a hanging victim.

Most hangings were suicides, Annie knew, not murders, for the obvious reason that it was very difficult to hang a man while he was still alive and kicking. Unless it was the work of a lynch mob, of course, or he had been drugged first.

If it was a suicide, why had the victim chosen this particular place to end his life? Annie wondered. This tree? Did it have strong personal associations for him or had it simply been convenient? Had he ever realized that children might find him, and what effect seeing his body might have on them? Probably not, she guessed. When you’re that close to ending it all, you don’t think much about others. Suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness.

Annie knew she needed the Scenes of Crime Officers here as soon as possible. It was a suspicious death, and she would be far better off pulling out all the stops than jumping to the conclusion that nothing much need be done. She took out her mobile and rang Stefan Nowak, the Crime Scene Manager, who told her to wait and said he’d organize his team. Next, she left a message for Detective Superintendent Catherine Gervaise, who was in a meeting at County HQ in Northallerton. It was too early to determine the level of investigation yet, but the super needed to know what was happening.

Then there was Banks — Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, her immediate boss — who would normally be Senior Investigating Officer on something as serious as this. Should she call him? He had taken off early for the weekend, driving down to London that morning to stay with his girlfriend. Annie couldn’t complain. Banks had plenty of time off due to him, and she herself had recently got back from a two-week stay with her father in St. Ives, mostly sketching and lounging around on the beach, convalescing and recharging after a traumatic period in her life.

In the end she decided that Banks could wait. It was time to get back to the river and see what Winsome had found out from the kids. Poor buggers, Annie thought as she tottered down the slope behind the patrol officer, arms out to keep her balance. On the other hand, kids were resilient, and when they got back to school on Monday morning, they’d have one hell of a story to tell their mates. She wondered whether English teachers still handed out “what I did on my holidays” assignments. If they did, they’d be in for a big surprise.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“A terrific read.”
—Toronto Sun
“One of Robinson’s darkest books.…And one of his best.”
—Halifax Chronicle Herald
“Arresting.… Exerts a considerable grip.”
—The Independent
“First class crime complete with a lot of emotional intrigue.”
—Daily Mirror (4/5)

“A must for devotees of the Banks series.… Engrossing.”
—IndependentWeekly (Adelaide)
“Just try putting the book down after a chapter or so: you’ll have a problem.”
–The Independent
Praise for Peter Robinson:
“Nobody covers the ground quite like Robinson does. His storytelling is all about the conflicts of life. . . . It is this warts-and-all portrayal of lives on the brink that makes Robinson among the best there is in modern crime fiction.” — Edmonton Journal

“Brit cop-job books don’t come much better than Peter Robinson’s. . . . There’s none of that frantic, rat-race paced frenzy that the Yanks employ that leave you needing a lie down after half a dozen pages. This is relax-on-the-sofa stuff, layered and engrossing with just the right balance of thrill, chill and human spillage to keep the reader honest. . . . Bloody marvellous.” — Daily Sport

From the Hardcover edition.

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