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I've read and enjoyed quite a few of John Harvey's books now. He is probably most famous for his Charlie Resnick series, featuring a Nottingham detective, but recently he has branched out into another series featuring an ex-police Detective Inspector living as a hermit apart from when he ventures out to solve the odd murder case. This is Frank Elder and he is the main character in this particular book, the third in the Elder series.
Frank Elder is not particularly impressed when he receives a call from his ex-wife, Joanne, who has a case for him - the sister of Jennie, a friend of hers has gone missing and Jennie thinks that foul play may have been involved. The missing woman, Claire Beecham, is a relatively staid woman with little excitement in her life and there is no way she would go off without telling her sister or children. Despite his reluctance to leave the peace of his cottage in Cornwall, Frank returns to his old haunts in Nottingham, and with the help of an old colleague, Maureen Prior, begins to investigate.
Then Claire turns up...tucked up in her bed and very very dead. What strikes both Frank and Maureen is the similarity to his first case in Nottingham a few years before. This also involved a woman being found dead in her bed and the way she was killed was very similar. Delving into the backgrounds of both women, Frank and Maureen slowly begin to piece together their last hours; what they discover is the work of a very chilling individual.
I really enjoyed this book. I've been very busy at work recently and wanted something easy, but not totally mind-numbing to pass the journey to and from work. This hit the spot perfectly. I most enjoy the type of crime fiction that drip feeds information throughout the book without giving away too much at a time, but without leaving me with time to get bored. That's exactly what I got here and I found myself unable to sleep at night until I'd finished the book.
There are so many authors of crime fiction these days that it is difficult to find a main character that is original. Frank Elder isn't exactly one of a kind, but I do find him more interesting than the usual hard-working, tough talking, heavy drinking detective. I think it may be because he is a loner and to a certain extent so I am, so I can empathise with his desire to hide himself away. He does have the ubiquitous complicated background though - he is estranged from his wife and following her affair, he retired from the police and hid himself away in the middle of nowhere. He has a daughter Katherine, but they rarely see each other; recently even less than usual following a case during which Katherine was abducted and nearly ended up dead. Despite all this angst though, he is not a depressing character and I find him interesting.
I think that the author manages to balance out the main thrust of the story with the story of Frank's personal life very well. There is not too much or too little; to the extent that I am looking forward to the next book to find out what happens in his private life. Some other authors, Ian Rankin particularly springs to mind, somehow don't manage to create characters that I either like or am interested in, which can detract from the book at times.
My only criticism is that there is a twist in the ending. I like endings that are unexpected, but in this case, it involved a coincidence which just wasn't all that believable. Had the ending been kept simple, I actually think it would have been better.
In my opinion, very few authors of crime fiction are high quality writers. John Harvey isn't an exception. Not that I think it is all that important; in some ways it is more important that the story is told as straight-forwardly as possible. However, if you do like to combine crime fiction with a high standard of writing, this book is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you just want to read a book with a good plot that delivers at the end, then you'll probably really like this. Recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by Arrow Books, it has 464 pages. ISBN: 9780099489955