When I finally got around to reading Tony Judt’s widely praised Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin), published in 2005, I was amused to discover that Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks was reading it too. As mystery fans know, DCI Banks is the protagonist of a series of detective novels by Peter Robinson, and in the latest Banks story to come out in paperback, Friend of the Devil (McClelland & Stewart), the inspector is also reading Postwar. Robinson’s hero returns home from his detecting, pours himself a glass of wine and settles down on the sofa with Judt’s book. This is the first time I have found myself reading the same book as a character in a novel and, as it were, at the same time. Banks lives in the eternal fictional present and therefore reads the book coincidentally with me, just as he conducts his police investigation at the same time as I read about it. I wanted to know what page he was on. Has he reached the section on the Cold War yet, I wondered? What does he think about Judt’s description of the collapse of Communism? One thing I do know: whereas I was able to finish Postwar (it is every bit as interesting and well written as the critics said it was, though a trifle dense with facts, as such survey histories tend to be), Inspector Banks does not finish it. He is so busy solving his case and catching the villain that Postwar lies half finished on his living-room table, where it will continue to lie for eternity (unless he finishes it in the next novel of the series). My copy will occupy a space on my bookshelves from which I will pull it down and consult it for years to come. This is an advantage reality has over fiction: you get more books read.