Playing with Fire is a thriller published in 2004 which is part of a series. The main character is Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks who was introduced in 1987 by Peter Robinson.
The plot centres on the investigations of different fires which take place in a short time. The story starts when two barges are found burning and two death bodies are found inside. The victims are Tina, a teenager, and Thomas McMahon, an artist. Detectives begin a fire investigation led by Alan Banks and his workmate and former girlfriend, Annie Cabott. Traces of accelerant are found in the barges, therefore, the police have to look into the crime.
There are several suspects. Andrew Hurst who warns the fire fighters, he has washed all his clothes in order to remove any evidence. Mark Siddons, a young boy found near the fire scene who tries to escape but he is caught and interrogated. He tells the detectives that he lived with Tina who was hooked on drugs because she had been abused by her stepfather, Patrick Aspern. Mark and Tina had been arguing before the fire. The officers suspect Mark, yet he has an alibi which they have to check. Maybe Aspern is involved, Banks must verify whether the abuse accusation is true or not. Tina’s drug dealers and Leslie Whitaker, the owner of an antiquarian book shop who sold Thomas old books, are also under suspicion.
Whilst the investigation is being carried out, there is a fire in a caravan where a man called Roland Gardiner dies,. A fire-resistant safe is found there with paintings by Turner inside. Annie’s actual partner, Philip Keane who is a trained art authenticator joins the investigations. He denies knowing Thomas, however, Banks finds out that Keane had met Thomas and Whitaker in a Turner’s reception, so Banks suspects Keane is hiding something. The investigations go on. Annie and Banks discover that McMahon, Gardiner and Hurst were implicated in different kinds of fraud. Spectral analyses show the presence of the “date-rape” drug in the systems of McMahon and Gardiner. Detectives look for a rent car which was found near the boats and they find out it was rented by a man who is dead. There is another fire, in the Aspern’s house, nevertheless, it seems not to be related with the other ones.
Keane visits Banks, they have an interesting conversation about what is happening. Later on, Annie and a colleague go to Bank’s home. When they are arriving, they see the flames climbing up the house. They come into the house and save Banks from the fire.
Finally, Annie meets Banks in the hospital and they talk about the case. The outcome of the investigation indicates that the murderer is a man who plays with different identities, they maight not be able to catch him because he is a clever man who has everything under control.
The story isn’t very fast moving because there are a great number of red-herrings; as a result, the book is rather heavy. Although, some details could be omitted, it is certain that other contribute to make the story more interesting, as the details of the investigation and the insights into the darker motivations of the human mind; The Aspern’s family hides an important secret and Banks loses his objectivity when Annie’s boyfriend is concerned
Although the book is a bit long, the author keeps a continuous intrigue all throughout the plot. You will be shocked at the turn of events; you won’t able to solve the mystery until the last chapters. I thoroughly recommend it; you will want to go on reading