Heinemann, £14.99. Order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Far Cry, By John Harvey
Thursday 02 July 2009
There's evidence of a high-risk trend in British crime writing. Perhaps aware that readers are wearying of burnt-out, alcoholic or damaged detectives, writers such as Laura Wilson have made their heroes relatively untroubled: family men, non-addictive personalities, not at loggerheads with superiors. This more quotidian copper also sports fewer tics (possibly remembering Agatha Christie, who regretted saddling Poirot with eccentric habits).
The most recent adopter of this hazardous tactic (such restraint might render the protagonist bland) is the ever-reliable John Harvey. Far Cry is, amazingly, Harvey's 100th book (although the tally does include a novelisation of Herbie Rides Again), and he has again demonstrated his expertise at delivering a masterfully-wrought crime narrative.
The detective here is closer to Harvey's retired policeman Frank Elder than his jazz-loving Charlie Resnick. DI Will Grayson is not socially maladjusted, has two kids, a happy marriage and a slightly uneasy relationship with his partner DS Helen Walker, whose affairs he resents – either in the manner of an over-protective father, or brimming with repressed sexual jealousy.
Harvey forges a seamless union between his narrative and some cogent aperçus about British society. In Far Cry, one of his subjects is the rights of the individual. Ruth Pierce and her husband's lives are shattered by the disappearance of their daughter, which destroys their marriage. Ruth marries again, but the unthinkable happens when history repeats itself with a second daughter.
Grayson becomes grimly fixated on a released paedophile, who loiters around schools. Both Will and Walker find themselves in a morass that sorely tests them both. What price the rights of suspects when the safety of children is at stake? How much latitude should parents allow their offspring? And how does one survive the abduction and sexual abuse of a child? That Harvey can deal with such weighty issues responsibly within a page-turning crime entertainment is a measure of his mastery.
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