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Onyx reviews: Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

Juliet Doyle finds a handgun in her daughter Erin's bedroom. The discovery is disturbing and surprising, especially in Britain, where guns are scarce and most of the police aren't armed. Mrs. Doyle, a former neighbor and family friend of Inspector Banks, hopes that he can handle the distressing situation discreetly. Unfortunately the Inspector is on "gardening leave" in America, decompressing from recent stresses. That means the case goes through normal channels. 

In the UK, possession of a handgun means a mandatory five year prison term. Authorized Firearms Officers, members of the Armed Response Team, are called in and the Doyle home is stormed in much the same way that drug labs and gangster hideouts are raided in the US. In the confusion, one of the officers shoots Mr. Doyle with a Taser. The man's heart gives out and he dies, which triggers an internal investigation into how the situation was handled.

The gun in question has a history. Erin stole it from her Bangladeshi boyfriend, Jaffar McCready, in a fit of pique after she saw him making out with one of her closest friends—Inspector Banks' daughter, Tracy. When investigators show up at the apartment Erin and Tracy share with another girl, Tracy warns Jaff to expect the police, not realizing that she's walking into a lion's den. 

Jaff, exotic, charming and handsome, a womanizer in every sense of the word, has a dark side. He's the bad boy that young women are incapable of resisting. When he and Tracy watch the news and he realizes that his gun is in the hands of the police, he's forced to go underground. Tracy takes him to her father's rural cottage while he figures out what to do next. He's in possession of another weapon, and a large quantity of drugs and cash, but he doesn't yet know that Tracy is a cop's daughter. 

The book's success depends completely on readers' willingness to accept the actions of this twenty-four year old woman. She seems old enough to know better, but there are countless instances in life of people who make stupid choices that mount up to the point that it becomes difficult to extricate themselves from the mess. At first, not understanding the magnitude of the problem, she is a willing co-conspirator. She's been working in a bookstore, clubbing, taking recreational drugs. Searching for her identity while risking losing it at the same time. 

Everything goes sideways when Jaff finds a letter in the cottage addressed to DCI Banks of the Yorkshire Constabulary. Tracy is no longer a friendly collaborator, she's his prisoner. A negotiating chip in case he gets cornered. Jaff convinces her that if she escapes he'll come looking for her. Tracy is suddenly in fear for her life and, though there has been an emotional distance between her father for a number of years (she thinks Banks favored her younger brother, a successful musician, and she believes he is disappointed by her poor showing on her university exams), she reverts to a little girl who wants her daddy. 

Inspector Banks isn't as philosophical as Inspector Dalgliesh (P.D. James), nor as hard drinking and maudlin as Inspector Rebus (Ian Rankin), but he is a renegade and a deep thinker. He's had a run of bad luck with women (separated from his wife, uncertain about his relationship with his partner, Detective Inspector Annie Cabot), and he's never been a stickler for protocol. The scenes featuring his adventures in San Francisco give Robinson a chance to explore America from a British perspective. Robinson was born in the UK but emigrated to Canada, where he still lives, though his books are all set in the Yorkshire of his youth. Banks is bemused by how friendly people in the service industry are in America. "A grunt is the most likely response to a hello" in a British pub, he muses. He finishes off his vacation with a one-night stand with a woman he meets at a wine tasting.

When Banks returns to England, he is thrown into the investigation and manhunt, which takes on a more serious tenor when a police officer is seriously wounded. Banks must tread a delicate line between cop and father. It's surprising that he isn't sidelined altogether, but he is well enough respected that an exception is made in his case.

The book relies overmuch on stereotypes of the genre, including a sadistic sociopath and the obligatory conflict between the internal affairs division (Professional Standards in the UK) and the regular cops. Superintendent Reg Chambers is uniformly antagonistic, with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Though it's a moot point, Chambers assumes that if Banks had been present when Juliet Doyle reported the firearm he would have disregarded proper procedure. Robinson also stereotypes a lesbian officer, Nerys Powell, making her an officer who has risen to a position of responsibility but who behaves rashly because of unrequited attraction to another officer.

Bad Boy is a police procedural, not a mystery novel. The culprits are known from the outset and the only question is how the police will bring them to justice and what collateral damage will happen along the way. The resolution to the kidnapping is surprising, but it leads to a rather protracted denouement where the Inspector Banks and an officer who acted on her own initiative are scrutinized. 

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