by Bruce TierneyDecember, 2005
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
This month's Tip of the Ice Pick goes to English author John Harvey for his brilliantly rendered Ash & Bone, the follow-up novel to 2004's Silver Dagger award-winning Flesh &andamp; Blood. Both feature retired Nottingham police detective Frank Elder, a battered survivor of years on the force, a broken marriage and strained relationships with his daughter and ex-colleagues. For most of his married life, Elder's behavior vis-a-vis other women was exemplary. His single slip was with a fellow police officer, Maddy Birch, with whom he shared a one-time-only hurried encounter in a dark doorway years ago. Their paths never crossed again, but she continued to occupy a place in his memory, disturbing him in ways he had not dealt with before. Maddy, for her part, had since been married (badly), then involved in a series of less than fulfilling passing relationships. Of late, she seemed to be off men entirely. Her police career has moved forward dramatically, though: as Ash & Bone opens, she is the point person in a daring attempt to take down a major crime figure, with force if necessary. When the smoke clears, one cop lies dead, and the crook as well. Perhaps the shooting of the criminal was a bit hasty, though, not entirely kosher. Maddy is the only one who could say definitively, and though she reveals little to the investigating board, the other cops in the takedown were more than a little concerned about what she might say under duress, if the investigating board began to tighten the screws. Thus, it's not very surprising to the reader when Maddy is murdered, and Frank Elder is summoned out of retirement to lead the investigation into her death. From this somewhat formulaic beginning, Harvey weaves a suspenseful police procedural that will be immensely satisfying to fans of Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell and Reginald Hill. Frank Elder is a complex and involving soul, and the other major characters are equally well drawn.