Being an Estonian abroad with an unusual name – even for Estonians – often means that people are curious about your background and your country. This is a good thing, as it attunes others to our existence. And when a non-esto reads about Estonia they often feel that they must pass this on to an Estonian.
Such was the case recently, when an avid reader advised the undersigned that the 20th Inspector Banks police procedural/crime novel, written by Canada’s Peter Robinson, devoted about a third of its pages to Estonia. “Watching the Dark “ was published in 2012, still recent enough to merit mention in these pages.
Robinson, born in England, long a Canadian resident, presently divides his time between Toronto and Richmond, Yorkshire. His books have been honoured by numerous international awards, not least Canada’s top crime novel award, the Arthur Ellis. (Arthur Ellis was the pseudonym used for every executioner in Canada to protect their privacy, until the death penalty was abolished in the 1960’s.)
Without giving away too much of the plot Inspector Banks in “Watching the Dark” investigates the murder – by crossbow – of a fellow police officer at a police sanatorium. The case has Estonian connections: the murdered policeman had investigated the disappearance of an English lass at a “hen party” in Tallinn six years earlier. Banks and his assigned partner travel to Tallinn for more background and in search of tie-ins.
Robinson has spent time in Tallinn, teaching, as he underlines in his acknowledgments. He does not specify what he taught, but as he has taught crime writing in Canada it is a safe bet that he did the same in Estonia. Among the students he acknowledges, as contributors to the book, is at least one person, known to the undersigned, who lived in the U.S. during the decades of Soviet occupation. One presumes that the course was taught in English, no translator needed. Indeed, as Banks discovers, most Estonians are at least able to converse in English. The younger they are, the better their command of the language.
Robinson accurately describes all the locations – Tallinn’s Old Town, Haapsalu, and Viimsi among others. The restaurants referred to are where they should be and actually exist or existed. Niguliste church with its famous Danse Macabre or Surmatants panel painting as well as the bookstore on Harju Avenue feature in the narrative as well. The few Estonian expressions used are correct. The names of the characters – Mihkel Lepikson, Merike Noormets, Aivar Kukk and Joosep Rebane as examples – are as Estonian as can be.
Robinson usually includes musical references in his Banks series. It bears noting that in this book Inspector Banks relaxes listening to recordings of Arvo Pärt’s and Erkki-Sven Tüür’s compositions. A detail that adds enjoyment to the book.
For those who enjoy a well-crafted crime novel, this book is worth reading, for more than the Estonian content. It is available at Amazon’s web site and Indigo’s brick-and-mortar outlets. Numerous copies grace the shelves of the Toronto Public library system as well. A pleasant diversion on a rainy day. They have lots of such days in Yorkshire, and we are sure to have many in November here in Toronto.
Banks goes to Tallinn (1)