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Behind the Book with Peter Robinson

Perhaps this column should really be called BEHIND THE BOOKS, as Many Rivers to Cross is the second in a proposed trilogy. Publishers are wary of promoting trilogies until they are finished for two reasons: first, the author might never finish the third book, and second, people might be put off buying books two and three unless they have read book one. I tried to get around that problem by having each book include a mystery of its own, which takes up the majority of the space, as well as an ongoing story to be told in stages throughout the three books. You can certainly read Many Rivers to Cross without first reading Careless Love, as it was relatively easy to recap what had already happened in the ongoing story.

The process is really not much different from reading a series in general. People often ask me if they should start with the first book, or dive in anywhere. I usually suggest the latter, but I also know that some people just have to start with the first one. And they know who they are! But really, you can start anywhere in the series, or in the trilogy. Your reading experience might be slightly different if you’ve read previous books and know more of the background, but it wouldn’t be better or worse.

At the time I started writing Many Rivers to Cross, there was a great deal in the UK news about ‘county lines,’ a new method of drug distribution. The dealers in big cities send sub-dealers—often young children—back and forth between smaller outlying towns and villages, where they use the home of a drug addict or vulnerable person as a base. The ‘county line’ is a dedicated mobile phone line, through which people in the villages can place orders, which are then delivered. It’s kind of like the Amazon Prime of selling drugs. Naturally, it’s a dangerous business, with its own turf wars, and it seemed to me ripe territory for development into crime fiction. The young victim in the book is a Syrian refugee who, unable to find his British relatives after a horrendous journey across Europe, drifted from homelessness into the world of county lines. His murder is the crime that Detective Superintendent Alan Banks, DI Annie Cabbot and the team investigate in Many Rivers to Cross. The title is taken from the well-known song, of course. There are many versions, but I prefer the one by Jimmy Cliff.

The ongoing story—told across three novels—involves a beautiful young woman called Zelda, who was kidnapped outside the orphanage in Moldova she was leaving at the age of eighteen and sold into sex slavery. She has escaped from this life and is living with Annie Cabbot’s artist father, who has moved up to Yorkshire. Zelda is a super-recogniser—she never forgets a face—and is using her talent to help the police identify sex-traffickers from surveillance photographs and videos. In her work, Zelda comes across a photograph of an old enemy of Banks’s—a man called Phil Keane, who tried to kill him by setting fire to his house, with Banks inside, in Playing with Fire—and she offers to help Banks and Annie track him down. Unknown to Banks, however, she also has her own agenda, which involves eliminating some of the people who abused her over the years. 

And don’t worry, I’m already into the third and final book, which is called Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan, this time), which should bring all the loose ends together and, I hope, provide a satisfying resolution for everyone.

MANY RIVERS TO CROSS is available now everywhere books are sold. And don’t miss the book’s playlist here.