Charlie Resnick is nearing retirement age, not that he hasn’t been out of step with the policing times for years. But he’s settled into a comfortable relationship with his colleague Lynn Kellogg, and although a happy smile is something that would find great difficulty establishing itself on Resnick’s face; he’s content. Then Lynn gets shot, caught in a Nottingham gang-style shooting, and Resnick’s happy interlude is shattered. It gets worse when Lynn’s massage-parlour murder case, involving Eastern Europeans and forced prostitution, starts to take on deeper implications within the police force which Resnick of course cannot let lie.
John Harvey always writes well about the conflicts within the police: not necessarily blatant corruption, but the sort of injustices which adherence to bureaucratic priorities and politics produces, and of which Resnick, of course, remains contemptuous. But his books are also usually about more than the crimes and the way the police solve them; Cold In Hand is, at heart, a study of aging, of the way times change and the world becomes unfamiliar, and the way age and loss, while going hand in hand, often appear to us as a disconnect, in unexpected ways. There’s a deep sensitivity in Harvey’s prose, one that is sometimes hidden behind the macho bravado of the police world, and disguised by the details of Resnick’s life, the food, the music, the cats. If Resnick was, in many ways, an English Martin Beck, Harvey’s eye has always been turned more sharply toward the personal than the societal, and his Resnick has always had a more sympathetic, if no less solitary, private world.
Cold In Hand is also a fine, pacy novel that brings its crime down to the local level, and whose cops are first and foremost working people, with all the limitations that implies. There’s never been a detective less super-human than Charlie Resnick, and there’s never been one who’s more human either. He may be Harvey’s best creation, and this book certainly does both of them justice.
COLD IN HAND by John Harvey, William Heinemann, £12.99, ISBN 9780434016945