DCI Banks: Strange Affair (2012)
DCI Banks Strange Affair (2012) shows us one solution to a classic problem. Because we can’t do a prequel for this type of television series and endless flashbacks to our hero’s youth slow down the contemporaneous action, the answer is to have our lead character suddenly forced to go back to his family so we can see how he ended up as this streak of human misery. Arthur Banks (Keith Barron), his father, used to get up at six every morning and go to work. Over the weekend, he had his football and was known to buy a few beers in the local pub. But he was one of these salt-of-the-earth northerners who saw their duty as fathers to put food on the table and ensure their children grew up staunch Labour Party supporters. The practical care fell to the “mother”, Ida Banks (Polly Hemmingway). She did her best with her two sons but they did not get on. It turns out that even as a child, our hero was morose and difficult. He disappointed his father by refusing to study and go on to university — just look at the mess that’s ended him in. Only a copper, for God’s sake. Completely letting down the family which sees the police as the tool of capitalist and repressive governments, out to beat the Labour movement into the dirt. His brother Roy was the apple of his father’s eye. University and then life as a businessman. Ludicrous hypocrisy really. The socialist family spawns a copper and a get-rich-quick chancer. The father loves the wrong son. Such are the burdens of being born into a family in a series, first as novels and then as television episodes.
As we kick off, DCI Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) has the misfortune of losing DS Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe) to maternity leave and in comes DI Helen Morton (Caroline Catz). So here comes the set-up. Our hero takes off when his brother suddenly gives him a call. Except the unloved one seems to have disappeared. There’s a murder (what a surprise): a young woman called Jennifer Lewis. Guess what? She has our hero’s address on a piece of paper in her car. Not of course that anyone thinks our hero has suddenly become a cold-blooded killer. Suicide is more his style. But he can’t be involved in the investigation until it’s clear what’s going on. Then his brother also turns up dead. Shot in the head and dumped in a quarry. Roy’s business partner, Gareth Lambert (David Westhead) suggests Roy was having an affair with Jennifer and there’s CCTV footage from a garage showing them together an hour before Jennifer was murdered. To cut a long story short, the pivotal character turns out to be Carmen (Heida Reed) which leads us to one of the plot devices I hate the most.
Carmen has disappeared but the police have her mobile number. So our hero calls her leaving a voice mail saying he spoke with Roy before he was killed. He knows what Roy knew. She doesn’t know that he, Alan, doesn’t know anything. She may be spooked out into the open. Or whoever killed Roy and Jennifer may not want to take the risk he knows what Roy knew and so come to kill him too (and not before time, I might add). Anyway, there’s altogether too much knowing in all this bluff and double bluff and then, after some tense work, we end up with the solution. As you might expect, it’s really, really dark (that’s what makes this such a depressing series — give me the happy smiling village life of the Midsomer Murders any day). I won’t spoil it for you but it’s one of these fiendish plans for what, to some people’s eyes, may seem a not unreasonable purpose. I leave it to you to make the moral judgement but, because our hero triumphs, the murderer of his brother is revealed and his father is moved to thank our unstoppable force for justice by giving him Roy’s car — a Porsche which our hero has great difficulty getting into and out of. The moral of this story is that, if you’re a gritty Northern Dad who’s slaved away to put bread on the table, you may have produced a son who made his living out of prostitution and other criminal activities but, in the end, your son came to a red line, a red line placed there by you as his Dad. He was killed because he would not cross that red line. So gritty Northern Dads can take confidence. Your sons may be shits but, when the chips are down, they would rather be killed than betray your family values. At least, you’re supposed to think that’s reassuring. Personally, I would rather have my son alive than killed for a principle.
DCI Banks Strange Affair (2012) follows in the tradition of the first three stories in the series. It wants to emphasise the harshness of life “in the north” so everyone is emotionally repressed and prone to frowning as thoughts of life’s unfairnesses threaten to rise up. I suppose the motive is interesting but the practical mechanics of the show with Carmen lost, then found, then lost, then found again is a bit contrived.