"Ash and Bone"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple DEC 15, 2005)
"Tell me about the forensics on the knife," he said.
"You really know how to woo a girl, Frank."
A police procedural with several simultaneously unfolding plot lines, Ash and Bone is full of twists and turns, surprises and shocks, certain to keep mystery lovers reading well into the night. Complex and well developed, it features almost forty characters--police, crooks, and police who may be crooks, along with their lovers and families. Ostensibly "a Frank Elder mystery," Elder himself does not play a major role at the beginning of the novel. Instead the focus is on Maddy Birch, a detective sergeant in Serious and Organized Crime, who is on a bust with Paul Draper, a young detective constable, trying to apprehend James William Grant, a man accused of armed robbery, money laundering, drug dealing, and extortion. When things go wrong and shooting breaks out, both the accused man and Draper lie dead. The devastated Maddy, the focus of the first sixty pages, soon believes that she is being stalked and that her apartment has been broken into.
Detective Inspector Frank Elder, retired from the Nottinghamshire force and now living the life of a semi-recluse in Cornish, is persuaded to help in the internal investigation of Grant's death, officially a closed case following the initial investigation, but Maddy Birch, affected terribly by these events, is someone he has known for years and has cared about. Elder, however, is also trying to deal with difficult family problems. Separated from his wife for several years, he blames himself, in part, for his daughter's abduction, rape, and violent assault when she was in her early teens. When his wife calls to tell him that his daughter Katherine is now out of control, staying out all night, drinking, and hanging out with punks and Goths who are into drugs, Frank tries to reconnect with this estranged daughter and help her to turn her life around, while at the same time investigating the Grant case and the people involved in it.
Karen Shields, detective chief inspector of Homicide West, a Jamaican who has worked her way into a position of power in the male police hierarchy, initially does not want to talk with Frank, but she soon realizes that he has no axe to grind, and they become confidantes as three separate plot lines unfold—the story of Maddy and the death of Grant; the story of Frank's daughter Katherine and her lover Rob Summers, who becomes the subject of a police investigation for drugs; and the story of a rogue police detective who may have much to hide—someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his own interests, some of which are decidedly financial.
A gritty police procedural, Ash and Bone tracks several characters who have connections to more than one plot line, and develops the action in which they are involved—drugs, prostitution, and graft—creating suspense and dramatic tension as new information is revealed about each of these characters and their behavior. Eventually, characters become linked to "cold cases," and the horror of their betrayals of the public trust startles the reader and creates even more suspense as the implications for the cases Elder is investigating become obvious.
Lovers of police procedurals will find this novel one of the classics of the genre. Realistic, often depressing because of the venality of some of the players, but carefully constructed within a tight narrative structure, Ash and Bone offers much to intrigue those who admire character development, at the same time that it keeps the tension high with plot twists and new characters appearing up until the very end. Though Elder himself is not fully developed here, the "bones" that author Harvey has created will allow further development in future novels, and the involved reader will look forward to a more fully revealed personality. Complex, the plot keeps the reader fascinated, and all "loose ends" are eventually resolved, to the satisfaction of intrigued readers.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Ash and Bone at Harcourt
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Charlie Resnick Novels:
- Lonely Hearts (1989)
- Rough Treatment (1990)
- Cutting Edge (1991)
- Off Minor (1992)
- Wasted Years (1993)
- Cold Light (1994)
- Living Proof (1995)
- Easy Meat (1996)
- Still Water (1997)
- Last Rites (1998)
- Cold in Hand (September 2008)
Frank Elder Mysteries:
- Ampthetamines and Pearls (1976)
- The Geranium (1976)
- Junkyard Angel (1977)
- Neon Madman (1977)
- Frame (1985)
- Blind (1981)
- Endgame (1982)
- Dancer Draws a Wild Card (1985)
- In a True Light (2002)
- Gone to Ground (March 2007)
- Men from Boys (May 2005)
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- Official website for John Harvey
- Tangled Web review of Last Rites
- Crime Time review of Last Rites
- Guardian Unlimited review of Flesh and Blood
- Curled Up review of Ash and Bone
- The Age review of Ash and Bone
- Book Synopsis for Darkness and Light
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About the Author:
John Harvey was born in London in 1938. After studying at Goldsmiths' College, University of London, and at Hatfield Polytechnic, he took his Masters Degree in American Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he taught Film and Literature as a part-time lecturer between 1980 and 1986.
He taught English and Drama in secondary schools for twelve years. In 1975, he left his job to write full time. For years he was a regular tutor on residential writing courses run by the Arvon Foundation, and in 1995 he was on the teaching faculty of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fiction Workshop in Northern California. He has recently decided to do no further teaching, either in workshop or formal situations.
Although he is principally known as a crime fiction writer, he started out as a paperback fiction writer for both adults and teenagers. He has over 90 books published under various pseudonyms and has won many awards. He published the first of the Charlie Resnick novels in 1989; Lonely Hearts was named by The Times (London) as one of the 100 Best Crime Novels of the Century. His novels featuring Frank Elder include Flesh & Blood, which won the British Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagge. He is also a poet with works that have appeared in a large number of magazines and pamphletsand he ran Slow Dancer Press from 1977 to 1999 publishing the work of many new poets and established writers..
John lives in Nottingham with Sarah and their daughter Molly.