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by John Harvey
Arrow, February 2005
462 pages
ISBN: 0099466228

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Charlie Resnick may be the better known of John Harvey's two series protagonists but it would not take much crystal gazing to predict that retired Detective Inspector Frank Elder may soon, if not overtake, then equal Resnick in popularity.

The book opens with Elder dreaming. The unsettling nightmare features savage cats and an equally savage enlivened corpse of a girl. When Elder's daughter Katherine comes to stay, the dreams do not abate and she is worried about his state of mind. Her parents had separated several years previously as a result of Joanne's infidelity with the man with whom she is now living. Elder is haunted both by the ghosts of his marriage and of past cases that have gone unsolved.

Susan Blacklock disappeared, presumed murdered, during the same period that Shane Donald and his mentor Alan McKeirnan were plying their murderous trade. At the time it was assumed that McKeirnan and Donald were responsible for Blacklock's disappearance but nothing was ever proved.

For years now, Helen, Susan's mother, has mourned her daughter but not really come to terms with the disappearance. When Elder visits Helen, she is pleased that he is attempting to fulfil his earlier promise to find her daughter and the two embark upon a warmer relationship.

Shane Donald is out on parole. Harvey paints a not unsympathetic picture of the man. Donald had suffered greatly at the hands of his older brothers. Withdrawn and lonely, it was understandable that he fell under McKeirnan's influence and went along with what his friend considered normal behaviour. Now, however, he is without a role model and must learn to obey the dictates of society. Instead, a reprise of earlier torments forces him to violate his licence and abscond. Then another girl is kidnapped and murdered and media and police attention is focused on the fugitive.

Readers who are offended by accounts of brutal torture visited upon young girls should be warned that they must be prepared to skim parts of this book. But it would be a pity to deny a reader pleasure simply because of the gory bits. The character studies of the major participants in the drama are well done. At times, almost more of the reader's sympathy could be lavished on the miscreant than on his victim. Indeed, the lonely former policeman may sometimes glean less understanding than the murderer he pursues.

Quite apart from the stark realities of human (and inhuman) nature portrayed here, the locations of the action are well-drawn. For example, the beauty of Robin Hood's Bay and Whitby are well-depicted and aspects that may have slipped from a visitor's memory brought back to life.

This novel provides an engrossing read for even the most jaded palate of a blasť reader.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, February 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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