New York Times bestselling author Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Alan Banks must turn to a murder committed in the 1960s in order to solve a present-day homicide as he races to uncover their common link.
1969 . . . In an era of free love and rebellion, a dead body is discovered among the detritus of a recently concluded rock festival—a beautiful young woman stabbed so savagely through the chest that a piece of her heart was sliced off.
Now . . . A freelance journalist, a stranger to the region, is savagely bludgeoned to death in a shocking act of violence with no apparent motive.
Two murders separated by four decades are investigated by two very different but equally haunted investigators—one, a casualty of war unable to come to terms with a confusing new world; the other, a rogue policeman harboring ghosts of his own. But the truth behind a grisly present-day slaying may somehow be hidden in the amplified, drug-induced fog of a notorious past, propelling Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks into the darkest shadows of the peace, love, and rock 'n' roll generation.
A complex, multi-layered thriller, Piece of My Heart once again attests to Peter Robinson’s incomparable storytelling genius.
“Keeps you turning the pages into the night.… [Chief Inspector Banks is] good company.”—New York Times Book Review
About the Author
One of the world’s most popular and acclaimed writers, Peter Robinson is the bestselling, award-winning author of the Inspector Banks series; he has also written two short-story collections and three standalone novels, which combined have sold more than ten million copies around the world. Among his many honors and prizes are the Edgar Award, the CWA (UK) Dagger in the Library Award, and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He divides his time between Toronto and England.
Read an Excerpt
Piece of My HeartA Novel of Suspense
By Peter Robinson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Peter Robinson
All right reserved.
Monday, 8th September, 1969
To an observer looking down from the peak of Brimleigh Beacon early that Monday morning, the scene below might have resembled the aftermath of a battle. It had rained briefly during the night, and the pale sun coaxed tendrils of mist from the damp earth. They swirled over fields dotted with motionless shapes, mingling here and there with the darker smoke of smoldering embers. Human scavengers picked their way through the carnage as if collecting discarded weapons, occasionally bending to extract an object of value from a dead man's pocket. Others appeared to be shoveling soil or quicklime into large open graves. The light wind carried a whiff of rotting flesh.
And over the whole scene a terrible stillness reigned.
But to Dave Sampson, down on the field, there had been no battle, only a peaceful gathering, and Dave had the worm's-eye view. It was just after 8:00 a.m., and he had been up half the night along with everyone else listening to Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. Now, the crowd had gone home, and he was moving among the motionless shapes, litter left behind by the vanished hordes, helping to clean up after the very first Brimleigh Festival.Here he was, bent over, back aching like hell, eyes burning with tiredness, plodding across the muddy field picking up rubbish. The eerie sounds of Jimmy Page playing his electric guitar with a violin bow still echoed in his mind as he shoved cellophane wrappers and half-eaten Mars bars into his plastic bag.
Ants and beetles crawled over the remains of sandwiches and half-empty tins of cold baked beans. Flies buzzed around the feces and wasps hovered about the necks of empty pop bottles. More than once, Dave had to maneuver sharply to avoid being stung. He couldn't believe some of the stuff people left behind. Food wrappers, soggy newspapers and magazines, used Durex, tampons, cigarette ends, knickers, empty beer cans and roaches you'd expect, but what on earth had the person who left the Underwood typewriter been thinking of? Or the wooden crutch? Had a cripple, suddenly healed by the music, run off and left it behind?
There were other things, too, things best avoided. The makeshift toilets set over the open cesspit had been uninviting, as well as few and far between, and the queues had been long, encouraging more than one desperate person to find a quiet spot elsewhere in the field. Dave glanced toward the craters and felt glad that he wasn't one of the volunteers assigned to fill them up with earth.
In an otherwise isolated spot at the southern edge of the field, where the land rose gently toward the fringes of Brimleigh Woods, Dave noticed an abandoned sleeping bag. The closer he got, the more it looked to be occupied. Had someone passed out or simply gone to sleep? More likely, Dave thought, it was drugs. All night the medical tent had been open to people suffering hallucinations from bad acid, and there had been enough Mandrax and opiated hash around to knock out an army.
Dave prodded the bag with his foot. It felt soft and heavy. He prodded it again, harder this time. Still nothing. It definitely felt as if there was someone inside. Finally, he bent and pulled the zip, and when he saw what was there, he wished he hadn't.
Monday, 8th September, 1969
Detective Inspector Stanley Chadwick was at his desk in Brotherton House before eight o'clock Monday morning, as usual, with every intention of finishing off the paperwork that had piled up during his two weeks' annual leave at the end of August. The caravan at Primrose Valley, with Janet and Yvonne, had made a nice haven for a while, but Yvonne was obviously restless as only a sixteen-year-old on holiday with her parents can be, and crime didn't stop while he was away from Leeds. Nor, apparently, did the paperwork.
It had been a good weekend. Yorkshire beat Derbyshire in the Gillette Cup Final, and if Leeds United, coming off a season as league champions, hadn't managed to beat Manchester United at home, at least they had come out of it with a 2-2 draw, and Billy Bremner had scored.
The only blot on the landscape was that Yvonne had stayed out most of the night on Sunday, and it wasn't the first time. Chadwick had lain awake until he heard her come in at about half past six, and by then it was time for him to get up and get ready for work. Yvonne had gone straight to her room and closed her door, so he had put off the inevitable confrontation until later, and now it was gnawing at him. He didn't know what was happening to his daughter, what she was up to, but whatever it was, it frightened him. It seemed that the younger generation had been getting stranger and stranger over the past few years, more out of control, and Chadwick felt unable to find any point of connection with them anymore. Most of them were like members of another species to him now. Especially his own daughter.
Chadwick tried to shake off his worries about Yvonne and glanced over the crime sheets: trouble with squatters in a Leeds city center office building; a big drugs bust in Chapeltown; an assault on a woman with a stone in a sock in Bradford. Manningham Lane, he noticed, and everyone knew what kind of women you found on Manningham Lane. Still, poor cow, nobody deserved to be hit with a stone in a sock. Just over the county border, in the North Riding, the Brimleigh Festival had gone off peacefully enough, with only a few arrests for drunkenness and drug dealing -- only to be expected at such an event -- and a bit of bother with some skinheads at one of the fences.
Excerpted from Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson Copyright © 2006 by Peter Robinson. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
1. "They say that if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there." Piece of My Heart is partly a story about the past. How do you feel when you read about the 1960s? If you were alive then, do you agree with the above statement? If you weren’t alive or were too young to remember that decade, do you care about what happened back then? How do your feelings about the 1960s affect your enjoyment of this story?
2. Peter Robinson grew up in Britain and sets his Inspector Banks novels in Yorkshire, England, but he has lived in Canada for many years. His novels make use of many British phrases, such as "vast tip," "bloke," "pulling the birds," "O levels," and "shag." Does the use of these Briticisms increase your enjoyment of the story? Do you think living in Canada for decades might change how the author uses British terms in his writing? Do you think North American English has had an effect on British language since the 1960s? Is that change reflected in this story?
3. "It was a wild October night outside. Banks could hear the wind screaming and moaning and see the dark shadows of tree branches tossing and thrashing beyond the kitchen window." In Piece of My Heart, the weather is often mentioned and seems to change as the story progresses. What are some of the types of weather found in this story, and how does the weather relate to the action of the plot and the mood of the characters when it is depicted?
4. Why do you think the author chose two quotes, one by Goya and one by Shakespeare, to precede this story? What does each quote mean? How does it relate to the plot and the theme of this story? How do you feel about authors prefacing their stories with quotes from other writers?
5. Piece of My Heart is the type of mystery novel usually referred to as a "police procedural." Because the story shows the police at work in two different times, the 1960s and the present, the reader can see both old and new police procedures applied to the same problems, for example, the analysis of blood patterns at the crime scene. What procedures have remained the same despite the passage of time? What are some procedures available to Alan Banks, but not to Stanley Chadwick? Are the new ways necessarily better? Can you think of ways in which Chadwick’s case would have been solved differently had newer techniques been available to him? Did new techniques allow Banks to find out things Chadwick could not have known about the murder of Linda Lofthouse? Or did Banks depend mostly on the time-honoured methods used by detectives?
6. What are some of the techniques the author uses to make transitions between the "old" mystery in this story and the "new" mystery?
7. Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Mojo magazine . . . does the inclusion of real celebrities and factual information about the entertainment world increase your enjoyment of this novel? Why?
8. This story, like actual police procedures in a homicide investigation, depends on interviewing suspects. Does Chadwick’s interview style differ from Banks’s? If you were being interviewed in a murder investigation, with which detective, Chadwick or Banks, would you be most likely to co-operate? Would this choice differ if you were guilty?
9. In what ways do you feel Banks’s personal life enhances his skills as a detective? In what ways does Chadwick’s personal life inhibit his skill as a detective? And vice versa?
10. What is the physical piece of a heart in this story? What is the metaphorical or symbolic piece of a heart? How does this symbol relate to the treatment of the many different parent-child relationships in the book? Consider Yvonne and Stanley Chadwick, Brian and Alan Banks, Kelly and Calvin Soames, and Nick Barber and his parents.
11. Annie Cabbot thinks, "You get to know the dead, become their voice in a way, because they can no longer speak for themselves." Do homicide investigators speak for the dead? How does that idea make you feel about characters like Banks and Cabbot? How do you feel when a murderer goes uncaught and unpunished?
12. The quality called "immediacy" means the writer’s ability to put you, the reader, right on the scene, often through detailed description. Look at some of the locales of this story: the rock concert, the village, the neighbourhoods of London, the pubs, the police station. By what means does the author achieve immediacy in these scenes?
13. Both Vic Greaves and Patrick McGarrity are "weirdos." Is it natural to suspect odd people of criminal behaviour? Is it fair? Can you think of any real cases in which eccentrics like McGarrity and Greaves have been convicted of crimes because of their offbeat habits?
14. In the 1960s storyline, Keith Enderby says, "And girls these days think there ought to be more for them in life. They want to work, for example, and get paid as much as men for doing the same job." Has this changed? How does the juxtaposition of the two times — the 1960s and the present — in this story show you that the world has changed in the past forty years? What does this juxtaposition tell you about things that haven’t changed?
15. Unlike other Banks books, in this one, the detective has no love interest. Can you see any character in this story who might become a love interest for Banks in a future story?