A police detective may like to think he can just walk away from the job that has consumed most of his adult life. He is entitled to believe that a new life in a remote Cornish cottage will wash away the blood of the countless victims whose cases he has investigated, and wipe the images of their broken bodies from his eyes. If anyone is entitled to joys of retirement, it is Frank Elder.
But being a copper isn’t the only thing he has walked away from. There is the wife who betrayed his trust, but more crucially there is the daughter, Katherine whose own life has been fractured, partly by her parents falling out of love, but more savagely by the fact that she herself was at the heart of one of Elder’s cases, when she was abducted, abused and violated by a psychotic killer.
While Elder whittles away his time helping out the local police force with difficult cases, and his wife gets on with her own life, Katherine is eking out an existence in a North London flat share, trying to hide the scars – both real and figurative – of her abduction. She has taken to modelling for life drawing classes in an effort to pay the rent independent of her mother’s generosity, and this has led her into a relationship with a highly respected artist whose career is on a definite upward surge.
When the artist is found brutally murdered on the floor of his studio, Elder is drawn into the case, first as a suspect himself, albeit briefly, but then in defence of Katherine who the police, in the absence of any other suspects or motives, have decided is a person of interest.
What follows is a multi-faceted precious stone. We have a police procedural, viewed largely through the eyes of the investigating officer in London. We have a whodunnit? with a clever set of misdirections – and clues both false and real. We have John Harvey’s quietly elegant prose, clever observation of character and deep sympathy for decent but flawed individuals who have made wrong choices in their lives. But then – and it is an explosive “but then” – something happens, something unthinkable, something potentially life-changing for Elder and his family, and the whole focus of the novel swings violently in an unforeseen direction.
In my mind I am moving this fine novel from the shelf marked Crime Fiction to the place where I put memorable books that leave a lasting impression. Call them literary fiction if you will, but names and categories aren’t worth a penny piece. Body and Soul is an elegy on everlasting themes that have seared the hearts of great writers down the years. It is about death; it is about regret and longing; it is about duty, loyalty and people who do what they think to be right despite a chorus of lesser mortals who are chanting, “leave it – forget it – don’t get involved.”
Body and Soul also takes an unflinching look at how love in itself is sometimes not enough – or possibly too much. I read elsewhere that this is to be John Harvey’s last novel. If this is the case then regret is permissible, but dismay would be churlish. We can only thank John Harvey (right) for his matchless legacy. Body and Soul is published by William Heinemann, and is available now.
HOWEVER – and here’s a thing – if you would like a hardback copy of this brilliant novel, I have one (just the one, sadly) up for grabs. The winner will be decided by a draw from a proverbial hat (actually a random number generator, but scrupulously fair!) How do you enter? Dead easy, and you have three ways to enter.
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org putting Body and Soul in the subject box.
- On Twitter, just click the ‘heart’ box under one of the many posts about this book. My Twitter name is @MaliceAfore
- On Facebook, go to the Fully Booked page and ‘Like’ the post.
JUST A FEW TaCs:
(1) One entry per person, please.
(2) The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 13th May.
(3) Because of postage costs, the competition is open only to readers in Britain, the Irish Republic and mainland Europe.