PW: You began your writing career as a poet, but with the publication of Close to Home you've finished your 15th novel and the 13th to feature Det. Chief Insp. Alan Banks. What led you to crime fiction?
Peter Robinson: I got interested in crime fiction by reading it, writers like Raymond Chandler and George Simenon, but the transformation from poet to novelist was a lot more natural than people seem to think. I was writing primarily narrative poetry with a strong sense of place.
PW: And your "novels of suspense" have strong narratives and an equally strong sense of place, primarily Yorkshire. What does that part of England mean to you?
PR: Yorkshire is what formed me; it's where I grew up, of course. But it's interesting to have Banks there because he grew up outside of that area, in Peterborough [an outlying suburb of London]. It's interesting to observe how he sees that world.
PW: We learn a lot about Banks's adolescence in Close to Home when he returns to Peterborough to investigate the recently discovered body of his friend, Graham Marshall, who disappeared when they were teenagers in Peterborough.
PR: I wanted to send Banks back home and have him explore his own past, his relationship with his parents, his old friends. The challenge in the current novel was to connect—or let the readers connect—the story set in the present [the disappearance of a teenage boy named Luke Armitage] with the story in the past.
PW: You recently received the British Crime Writers Association Dagger in the Library prize, awarded "to the author whose work has given most pleasure to readers." The judges commented, "The Inspector Banks novels are becoming grittier, dark and ever more popular." How is Alan Banks evolving, from your perspective?
PR: Banks is getting more complicated. When I first started writing about him, I didn't how far I'd take him, but with each book he's getting more and more layers, particularly to do with his past. He's become a darker, more introspective kind of person, and he has no family anymore, really. In the early books he was more easily distracted, but now about the only thing that takes him away from the horrors of his work is music.
PW: And he certainly encounters horrors, doesn't he? Your books are reminders that England is not always "a green and pleasant land."
PR: Exactly, and in the 1960s, when Banks was a teenager, a lot of the crimes you associated with the big city were starting to happen in outlying areas, in lovely peaceful English villages. But I think there's a very fine line between reminding people that it's not a "cozy" world and including gratuitous gore or violence. I hope I don't cross that line. But murder is a nasty thing, as writers like P.D. James and Ian Rankin let you know. They don't make you feel comfortable, and they're not supposed to.
PW: Your books are really a cross between procedurals and psychological mysteries. You've said, "It's less who done it than why they did it."
PR: I'm far more interested in what combination of circumstances caused a person to commit a crime. I find the term "police procedural" sort of boring actually. My novels are often less about Banks as detective than they are about Banks and what happens to the people around him, in his work and his life. But I hope to get the procedural part accurate, too!
PW: Your books are more character-driven than a lot of mysteries, but the narratives are compellingly intricate. Do you plot everything out in advance?
PR: I don't do an outline or anything like that. Readers sometimes tell me they're more often than not surprised when they find out who did it. It's also a surprise to me. I don't usually know who did it until I'm about three-fourths of the way through the writing!