- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

It is true to say that few have known the troubles that Charlie Resnick, veteran detective, has seen, and they never seem to end. In Cold In Hand (Harcourt, $26, 384 pages), John Harvey’s Resnick is the quintessential grizzled cop steeped in experience, cynicism and tragedy. Resnick loves jazz, cats, and a woman called Lynn Kellogg, a fellow detective.

When she is brutally shot down outside their front door, Resnick’s burgeoning new life dies with her, and he is left with the remains of his career and approaching retirement. How he deals with this latest disaster is written in the characteristic trenchant style that marked the author’s previous 10 books. He is an acknowledged expert on British police procedurals and that knowledge endows his work with a grim expertise.

There is little space for tolerance or tenderness in Resnick’s world where killing is resolved by more dying, as in the case of Lynn Kellogg, who is shot as a result of her intervention in a street brawl. Kellogg is injured in the melee, but she is held responsible for the death of a young girl by a gangster father whose threats are real. Kellogg is targeted by a young stalker, yet in the wake of her death, Resnick’s mourning is interrupted by the need to expand and continue Lynn’s investigation into a human-trafficking and international gunrunning ring. An intriguing interlude in the tautly constructed plot is introduced in the form of Karen Shields, a homicide detective inspector brought in to supervise the case.

She displays acute perception as well as professional respect for Resnick and makes a poignant gesture when she goes to his house after dark and stands watching the “pale blur” of a man standing in an upstairs window staring down. She makes no effort to talk to him, but before she leaves, Karen raises a hand “as if in salute.” Back in her hotel, she thinks about Resnick “trying and failing to feel her way into his mind, what he must be thinking, going through.”

What Resnick is in fact thinking is that had he gone to meet Lynn’s train on the day she returned, she would not have died.

In the end, there is a flicker of irony when Karen risks her own life to capture the leader of the prostitution gang Lynn had been investigating. And of course, it is Resnick who personally tracks down Lynn’s killer. Unsurprisingly, it is the miserable brother of the young woman whose death became his excuse for proving his manhood in the mean streets of Nottingham.

Resnick goes home to a house where he now has only cats for company and reflects on an old song about snow “spreading in drifts through all the bitter year.”

“Bitter. That wasn’t going to be him,” he decides in an ultimate tribute to his dead love. “Lynn would never forgive him for that.”


The answer to the question posed by Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News? (Little Brown, $24.99, 400 pages) would appear to be never, judging by the deluge of personal tragedy that flows through its pages.

Ms. Atkinson is an engaging writer with a gift for comic characterization that saves her book from the bloodstained murkiness of its opening chapters. However, plot progress is shadowed by that hideous portrayal of murder in an idyllic rural setting, where a mother, two of her three children and a dog are graphically slaughtered. The mother is cut down where she stands by a man brandishing “a great silver knife carving through her heart as if it were slicing butcher’s meat.”

The third child, Joanna, runs so fast she escapes and lives to be rescued, physically unhurt, but psychologically forever scarred. It is her life that ostensibly dominates the book, as the terrible past inevitably reasserts itself in the release from prison of the man who killed her family. It is part of Ms. Atkinson’s penchant for the macabre and the unlikely that Joanna secretly visits the murderer in prison before he is released. Even more unlikely, she treats the event as mundane.

Oddly enough, the haunted Joanna is challenged in terms of reader interest by a tart-tongued police inspector, and by 16-year-old Reggie Chase, a young woman who seems doom driven. Reggie can compete with anybody in her struggle to climb out of the sea of misery in which she seems to be drowning. Her beloved mum is dead, and she is tormented by her vicious older brother Billy who launched a life of sadism and petty crime by hurling her puppy through a window. All Reggie wants is a peaceful home with a dog and a baby, and she feels she has found that with Joanna and her husband. She is, of course, wrong.

It is characteristic of the author’s taste for giving her plot more twists and turns than a country road that in the middle of a train crash Reggie encounters Jackson Brodie, a private detective and divorced father who made his debut in Ms. Atkinson’s two previous novels, in case you forgot. The train virtually crashes into the house where Reggie is watching television, and she becomes not only the rescuer of Brodie but his unlikely confidante.

In the meantime, Joanna has been kidnapped, her mysterious husband is being pursued by the police probing his involvement in a case of arson, and the reader has the feeling that the same band will play on in whatever Ms. Atkinson writes next. She has a humor that the Scots call “pawky,” which looks with a wryly amused eye on events that otherwise might call for tears. It was a nice touch to have prominent on the book jacket the dog who presumably is about to get murdered, trotting beside a child also about to die.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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