Darkness, Darkness
John Harvey
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Darkness, Darkness
John Harvey
352 pages
September 2014
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Darkness, Darkness.

Bledwell Vale, like many villages across the north of Nottinghamshire, owed its existence to coalmining, an industry intended to be a brave new and profitable world. Setting his mystery during the Miners' Strike in March of 1984—and jumping forwards thirty years—Harvey writes his last Charlie Resnick novel. Providing a swansong of sorts for this jazz-loving detective, Harvey links his bedraggled protagonist to the disappearance of beautiful Jenny Hardwick, who went missing at the heart of the strike.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, Harvey overlaps every vital piece of information into his vibrant plot, from the stakeholders who were first involved in the strike to Charlie’s retirement, to his colleague DI Catherine Njoroge whose excessive smoking hides her anxiety about being young and black. Promoted to Detective Inspector eighteen months previously, Catherine’s new position at Nottingham’s Serious Organized Crime Unit is causing some dissent in the ranks of this rather insular, myopic police force. Luckily Catherine is able to call upon Charlie for help, a veteran policeman who is positive that the human skeleton found in the ruins of the Church Street extension is in fact Jenny.

Working at the time to de-escalate an increasingly acrimonious and violent situation, Charlie well remembers the tensions between the striking miners and the police, and between the families of men in villages like Bledwell Vale and the “scab workers” who continued, despite intimidation, to turn up to work. Even through the haze of thirty years, he recalls seeing Jenny at a community meeting at the local Miner’s Welfare. Dark-haired, with intense blue eyes, Jenny stood out.

The rumors were such that Jenny had disappeared and perhaps “done a runner.” At the time, she and her husband, Barry Hardwick, were on the opposite sides of the dispute and were hardly speaking. An enquiry was launched: local and low-key, but nothing was ever found regarding Jenny’s whereabouts. Barry swore blind that he never knew anything about where she had gone or why, even though he was showing some signs of violence towards her. Keith Haines, a local copper assigned to the case, suspected foul play. With no evidence and no forensic signs of violence or blood or clothing, he effectively closed the case.

Catherine and Charlie delve deeper into Jenny’s vanishing than Haines ever would or could, unfolding a fascinating psychological mystery where the events of the present are rooted in the past and shaped by the darkness in certain minds. Harvey’s tightly wrought plot is full of unexpected interconnections. The interviews with those who knew Jenny become pivotal to the case: her family and Barry; her sister Jill; and Charlie’s old colleagues who investigated her. Unfolding in snippets of information, there emerges a picture of life in Bledwell Vale three decades previously, in so far as it involves Jenny and Barry and the various people either long-scattered or now deceased.

As the investigation heats up and the killer has the police tied in knots, Catherine’s boss threatens to derail the investigation, as do the threats from Catherine’s Iranian lover. The detectives are sidetracked by a true crime author who tries to link Jenny’s death to the notorious Michael Swann, an incarcerated serial killer, though there’s absolutely no evidence that Swann was involved in any way with Jenny’s murder.

Jenny’s funeral itself makes ample testimony to the tension between the couple, the arguments that had flared up in public and Barry’s harsh words with Jenny, who “mostly gave as good as she got.” But for all the information Catherine and Charlie gather, they seem little closer to getting to the truth about actually happened. Maybe they’re just looking in the wrong places, thinking to find a motive for Jenny’s murder in high emotion, “an outburst of anger, lust or love.” Maybe it’s not that at all but something colder, darker, and more calculating. Edna Johnson, who helped Jenny with the donations at the Welfare Office, remembers Danny Ireland, a ginger-haired bloke who stared in Jenny’s direction so “bold and so brass.”

Harvey also delves deep into the messed-up, private regrets of both Charlie and Catherine. Despite his age, Charlie is still at the top of his game but no longer at the top of the force. Catherine is young but hardly steady. We really get to know her as she works hard to get to the heart of the mystery behind what really happened to Jenny that terrible, fateful night in Bledwell Vale.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2014

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