Somehow, over the past couple of years, Alan Banks, Peter Robinson's Yorkshire detective, and Roy Grace, Peter James' Brighton copper, have become intertwined in my head. I often see Grace as being Banks' southern twin.
The similarities are pretty clear. These are now, to my mind, the two leading UK procedural series. Both writers have produced consistently excellent novels and have so far escaped the mid-series doldrums that becalm even the very best of them - Rankin included. Both of the policemen are also regular, likable guys. Driven, of course, but decent, honourable men largely free from the sorts of psychological flaws many fictional policemen have. It makes them easy to root for and grounds the novels in a reality it is easy to believe in, and therefore quickly lose yourself in.
Bad Boy is the twentieth book in this series making Banks a true veteran of the scene - Grace, a nipper by contrast, is on just his sixth outing - but the story-telling remains as sharp and fresh as his debut.
Banks is absent from Eastvale, the fictional dales town at the heart of the novels, at the beginning of Bad Boy, holidaying in the American west as he recovers from the emotional scarring of a previous case. But he still dominates the narrative as the absence of his sensible, pragmatic policing skills in a delicate domestic situation result in the death of an innocent man after he is tasered by a confused officer. The deceased's wife had called on Banks, once a neighbour, after finding a gun in her room.
What follows quickly turns into one of the most personal cases Banks has faced. The dead man's daughter had been living with Tracy, Banks' daughter, and found herself caught up in the worst kind of trouble related to her boyfriend Jaff, the charismatic bad boy of the title. Soon Jaff has worked his charm on Tracy and she unwittingly finds herself on the run from the police.
All of this proceeds while Banks is finding some much-needed romance in San Francisco. Having him away from the centre of the action is clever plotting which ratchets up the tension even further so that by the time Banks returns - almost halfway through the book - the story is already a high wire act full of charge that Robinson does now allow to slacken off until the dramatic conclusion is played out.
This is masterful story-telling from Robinson, a writer whose gifts have blossomed and flourished over the last 20 years. And now - just as Banks is about to become a television star as ITV is now filming a dramatisation starring Stephen Tompkinson - a new army of readers will find an author writing at the very height of the procedural genre.
Just about everything is right here: plot, pace and characterisation rolled into a credible and compelling story.
Top billing at last for Alan Bansk, and top marks for Peter Robinson.