There were many who felt that John Harvey was robbed when his novel Flesh and Blood failed to bag the prestigious Crime Writers' Association main Dagger award last year. Harvey casts a cold eye on Britain, and his understated social criticism is quietly effective. With any justice, Ash and Bone will pick up this year's Dagger.
After dispensing with his series character Charlie Resnick, Flesh and Blood was a radical change, even though the world-weary detective Frank Elder somewhat resembled his predecessor. But is he the main character here? He handles the police-procedural business, but doesn't appear until Chapter Four.
The vulnerable female copper Maddy Birch launches the book, fastening on her protective vest and setting off on a raid to bring down a north London Mr Big. But things go bloodily wrong: the gangster is shot by another policeman, who appears to plant a weapon. Maddy finds herself in an inquiry that exonerates her unpleasant colleague.
Elder is unable to cope with his daughter's hostility and welcomes the chance to get back into harness, investigating the murder of another female colleague - with whom he had a sexual encounter. Harvey throws in two equally memorable female cops: Karen, black and chafing at colleagues' racism; and Vanessa, lonely, attractive, prone to risky encounters.
Harvey's Britain is a dark and minatory place: everywhere from Crouch End, where the disused railway line is the site of a killing, to a Lincolnshire in which crumbling houses were the site of sadistic murders. The country seems at the mercy of estate kids, their petty crime mirroring the serious mayhem committed by their elders. But perhaps the real coup is the early dispatch of a major character: risky territory indeed.
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