Gone to Ground by John Harvey

February 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

john-harvey.jpg John Harvey is one of Great Britain’s most accomplished writers of crime fiction. His earlier series featured Nottingham’s jazz-loving cop Charlie Resnick and gained him many fans among those of us who are addicted to British police procedurals. In 1998, Harvey closed that series out and began another one featuring the recently retired Frank Elder and set in Cornwall. Gone to Ground featured neither of the above two protagonist; instead, we’re introduced to Detective Will Grayson and DS Helen Walker, who are based in Cambridgeshire.

gone.jpg As the novel opens, Will and Helen have been called to the scene of a murder. Stephen Bryan, a teacher of film studies at a local university (not the fabled Cambridge) has been brutally knifed in his own home. It’s the sort of crime where you’d expect to find plenty of forensic evidence, but the investigative team is disappointed in that regard. When it is revealed that Bryan was gay, the question arises: Was this a hate crime?

I loved the way this investigation proceeded, with Will and Helen being diverted by numerous red herrings. Will is married with two young children. His wife Lorraine is chomping at the bit; she feels a desperate need to return to work in the outside world, a move that Will wants her to delay a bit longer.. Meanwhile, Helen is fighting to stay clear of Andrew, a former lover who keeps reappearing in her life. He’s bad news and she knows it, but at the same time she is irresistibly drawn to him. The suspense in this novel derives as much from the difficulties in the officers’ private lives as it does from the crimes they’re working to solve. But personal troubles do not overwhelm the narrative, and soap opera elements are kept to a minimum.

Gone to Ground features numerous intriguing, complex minor characters: Stephen’s embittered discarded lover Mark McKusick, construction industry titan Howard Prince and his slightly daffy, hyperactive actress daughter Natalie, and Stephen Bryan’s grief-stricken and grimly determined sister Lesley. Harvey writes great dialog; it serves to bring all these characters to vivid life. There’s quite a bit of interesting film lore thrown in as well.

My only reservation about the novel concerns the crime’s ultimate solution. I was somewhat bewildered by it, but maybe that was just me. Also, I don’t understand Harvey’s choice of title. I still recommend Gone to Ground: the plot was absorbing, the characters empathetic, and the writing first rate. These are all qualities I’ve come to expect from John Harvey.

cold.jpg Oh – and here’s a late-breaking bulletin: Harvey’s website informs us that Cold in Hand, the first novel to “strongly feature Charlie Resnick in 10 years,” has recently been published in the UK. According to Amazon, it is due out here in April. You heard it here first, folks!


  1. October Is Mystery Month! « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] I couldn’t stay away. Guests of Honor include two of my currrent favorites, Laura Lippman and John Harvey. I was always a fan of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels, but it’s been a while […]

  2. End of summer crime fiction roundup: some good reading here « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] had created a new protagonist, Frank Elder, a retired detective living in Cornwall. Finally, in Gone to Ground (2007), we were introduced to Detective Inspector Will Grayson and Detective Sergeant Helen Walker […]

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