Friday, 20 April 2018

JOHN HARVEY'S BODY & SOUL

Frank Elder has almost got his quiet life in Cornwall sorted. Elder fled there after he moved from London to Nottingham to help his wife's career. His wife's infidelity destroyed the marriage; his daughter's life spiraled out of control, especially after she'd been kidnapped by a sex offender when she was 16, and though Elder was the one who rescued her, he could not put her life back together. In the end, he fled. Now he does odd jobs, some for the police, visits the pub, has an on and off relationship with a woman who sings jazz. Until out of the blue his estranged daughter asks to visit, and arrives in London with her wrist bandaged, demanding he ask no questions.

Of course he does, and she leaves, but Elder follows, and discovers Katharine was working as a model for Anthony Winter, a well-known artist, and their relationship ended badly. He returns to Cornwall, but then Winter is murdered, and Katharine Elder is the number one suspect. And just to make things worse, Adam Keach, Katharine's kidnapper, has escaped from custody.

If Resnick is John Harvey's greatest detective, Elder has always been a sort of id to Resnick's ego. Quick tempered, often harsh, not the type to calmly think things through. He's also risked more than Resnick, and as the summary above suggests, not always successfully. So his motivations in this case are a powerful drive, in a sense a chance for Elder to redeem or maybe even vindicate himself. And while he may be sleeping occasionally with a jazz singer; Elder didn't even like jazz.

His real skill lies in the way Harvey makes the story reflect the inner turmoils of his characters' relationships, the ways they deal with life. It's always been one of the hidden highlights of his writing: balancing off the small pains inflicted by those we love or think we love, against the greater pain inflicted by the criminals his cops pursue. Although Elder, and to an extent Kate, remain the centre of the book, we see the conflicts reflected in the other characters he encounters—ex colleagues and friends on the London and Nottingham forces, his ex-wife, even his new circle in Cornwall. But it's mostly the shadow of exes that lowers over the story, as if the past is returning for a reckoning. Harvey is very good at the small nuances of people's everyday behaviour; alongside the tension of suspense comes the equally compelling tension of their lives. Body and Soul indeed; just listen to the song.

We saw the last Resnick novel not so long along, and retired from crime writing. He came back for this, Elder's last case, and as the various strands of the story weave together toward the climax it is every bit as touching as Darkness, Darkness was. If you've read this far, you might be interested in following this link to an appreciation of John I wrote for Windmill Books, on the publication of that novel four years ago. 

I have to declare an interest here: I don't know anyone who's written as many novels as John has, and I know very few who have written so well. But I also don't know many nicer people than John Harvey, so my declared interest may be interpreted as the hope John will write another novel, and once again surprise and delight.

Body and Soul by John Harvey
William Heinemann £14.99 ISBN 97811785151804

Note: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

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