Gone to Ground
John Harvey
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Buy *Gone to Ground* by John Harvey online

Gone to Ground
John Harvey
400 pages
February 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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"Violence that extreme, it suggests real danger, doesn't it?" says Detective Sergeant Helen Walker to her trusted partner, Detective Inspector Will Greyson. They are looking over the disfigured and viciously murdered body of thirty-something gay academic Stephen Bryan. His body lies horribly bruised and mutilated in his shower, his face like a glove that has been pulled, the upper part, in particular, beaten almost beyond recognition.

Bryan's death seems to be inexplicable at best, as his career had seemed to be flourishing. He had just started researching a biography about glamorous 1950's B-grade film star Stella Leonard, whose life was cut short when she died under mysterious circumstances. Never a superstar, Stella nonetheless achieved a modicum of fame after she starred in a reasonably successful noir movie called "Shattered Glass." But then, suddenly, Stella was dead, the car she was a passenger in driven inexplicably off the road on a dark and stormy night five decades ago.

Stella's untimely demise echoes down the decades, perhaps somehow connected to the brutal slaying of Stephen Bryan. On the initial analysis of the crime scene, it appears as though Stephen was robbed; his laptop is missing, along with his wallet and credit cards. DS Walker thinks the crime might have been a lovers' tiff, but DI Grayson is positive that Stephen could have been murdered by a bit of "rough trade." Perhaps Bryan went out cruising, picked up some bloke, bought him home, and "things turned nasty around act four."

In these crucial first early days of the investigation, the first character to entail suspicion is Bryan's on-again, off-again boyfriend, Mark McKusick. Mark and Stephen had had a falling out, so Mark hadn't seen Stephen for at least a month before his death. Furthermore, when he finds out about his boyfriend's murder, he collapses on the floor in the interrogation office wailing in pain; surely this is not the reaction of someone who has committed murder.

Both Helen and Will, however, are convinced that Mark is lying or play-acting. He's the only sensible suspect, the motive being rejection because Bryan had recently called a halt to the relationship. House-to-house enquiries yield little about Bryan's movements in the days before. Even more puzzling is that after initial conversations with Bryan's former colleagues, Will and Helen find that although he was not yet all that well-known, Bryan had been generally liked and respected.

Then Stephen's sister, Lesley Scarman, arrives on the scene, just back from New Zealand. An intrepid and fearless reporter for BBC Radio Nottingham, Lesley is determined to unveil the truth behind her brother's murder, not for a moment believing that her dear Stephen would indiscriminately go out cruising and looking for casual sex. She knows Mark and knows how committed he was to Stephen, but she's anxious to learn of the progress, if any, that Will and Helen are making with the case.

At this stage, author John Harvey propels his serpentine plot forwards, introducing a number of suspects and secondary characters who may or may not be connected to Bryan's death. When Natalie Prince, a boozy, beautiful actress with a penchant for newsworthy misbehavior, appears in town - purportedly in talks to star in a remake of "Shattered Glass" - Lesley and Natalie form an unlikely partnership, with Leslie determined to find out more about Stella Leonard. Perhaps it is only through Natalie can she find out why Stella's life was so important to Bryan.

Leslie doesn't quite reckon on the Machiavellian schemes of Natalie's officious and autocratic father, millionaire property developer Howard Prince. An influential man who wields a certain clout both above and below the law, it seems that Stephen contacted Prince a number of times, looking for information on his potential biography of Stella. Prince had apparently threatened Stephen by telling him to stay away from his family, and he now threatens Leslie in a similar fashion.

The narrative of this book forms a complicated maze that stretches throughout the chilly environs of Nottingham City and Cambridge. The clues gradually turn up in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs - one step forward, two steps back, with nothing coming together the way it should. But this is a story of remorse and revenge; even with its occasional sluggish pacing, particularly in the final third, Gone to Ground remains a solid mixture of British murder mystery and police procedural.

Perhaps most notable are the book's themes of violence and hostility against minorities as author John Harvey works to expose the homophobia and gang violence that still seems to plague and is so entrenched in British society, even after the recent introduction of that country's same-sex civil marriage laws.

Maybe the legend of Stella Leonard ultimately holds the key to Stephen's death, or even Russell Johnson, who apparently spent the night with Bryan five days before he was murdered. Still, faced with a possibly stalled case, Helen and Will work diligently as they battle their own personal baggage, trying to gather up all of the bits of evidence to form an interconnected picture of Bryan's activities leading up to his murder, eventually shaping an intricate and unexpected portrait of his life, and his death.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2008

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