John Harvey’s recent appearance at Lowdham’s St. Mary’s Church was part wake, part celebration, for the author has written the last of his crime novels. The evening of poetry, prose and jazz attracted a large congregation of followers marking the release of Darkness, Darkness the final case for the Nottingham-based detective Charlie Resnick.
‘I feel I should be delivering a sermon and probably am,’ said Harvey before introducing the Blue Territory Band, a modern jazz quartet. It’s no secret that Harvey and Resnick share a love of jazz, and the combination of piano, bass, sax and drums provided a suitable soundtrack for the marking of a twelve book series that began twenty-five years ago with Lonely Hearts. A short reading from Darkness, Darkness hit home the fact that the novel is firmly set in Notts, and features a pivotal time in the county’s history, the miners’ strike of thirty years ago.
Questions are invited and Harvey is praised for the authenticity of his dialogue. His response is revealing. For years Harvey thought the dialogue to be the weakest part of his books. When he left teaching and embarked on his full-time writing career Harvey wrote pulp fiction and westerns to pay the bills. Penning forty or fifty books in a five year period he soon learnt that dialogue was his friend. The readers – and publishers – demanded lots of white space on the page, and dialogue provided this. Its use also helped his words fill more pages, making his writing economically prudent.
But what of Harvey’s plan to retire Resnick? ‘I want to stop while I’m ahead,’ he said. ‘Finish on a good one.’
Darkness, Darkness is a ‘good one’, one of the best of the series, and one of the year’s best crime novels. See my review below.
Another question concerns the author’s future plans. It turns out that he’s in discussion with the Nottingham Playhouse over his writing of a stage version of Resnick, based on Darkness, Darkness. Alongside this production, which he hopes will be ready for 2016, Harvey will complete an MA in the History of Art.
He’s asked who he’d like to see play Resnick on the stage. Tom Wilkinson – who played him on TV – would be great but the Oscar winner’s pay grade would prohibit that, explained Harvey. Wilkinson was so good that the author began picturing the actor when writing subsequent books. A more realistic option might be Philip Jackson who played Resnick in the radio reading of Wasted Years.
After the audience enjoyed a wine fuelled interval, during which Harvey signed copies of his books, the jazz was back, this time accompanying Harvey’s prose and poetry. The poems were from his newly released collection Out of Silence. It was a little self-indulgent and at times it was hard to hear Harvey’s words above the music but it was good fun and Ian Hill’s soprano sax was impressive.
At one point Harvey introduced a reading from a Resnick book he described as ‘mediocre’ but with a strong first chapter. The novel, Still Water, opens with Resnick in the audience for a Milt Jackson gig. Jackson, a former member of Modern Jazz Quartet, recorded Bag’s Groove together with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, one of Resnick’s all-time favourite pieces. In the book he’s about to hear the seventy-three year old play live for the first time when Resnick’s beeper goes off calling him away. Harvey comments that there may be people in the audience that, like Resnick with Jackson, were there to see the author for fear that it might be their last chance.
Equally poignant was Harvey’s final poem of the evening, a tribute to Lester Young (musical collaborator and friend of Bille Holiday). The poem was inspired by an image of Young as an old man wearing a suit that’s now far too big for him. One thinks of Resnick, an ox of a man, now ageing, shrinking, and contemplating life, death and retirement.
At the end of eight bars
he closes his eyes and blows.
After two choruses he will cover
his mouthpiece with its shield:
not play again.
From Ghost of a Chance by John Harvey
|The 12th and final Resnick novel|
Darkness, Darkness – the Notts Lit review
There have been many books written about the miners’ strike but rarely from a Nottinghamshire perspective. Thirty years on and John Harvey, through his Nottingham-based Polish Detective Charlie Resnick, revisits the 1984 strike that threatened a civil war and tore towns and families apart. Partly inspired by David Peace’s novel GB84 Harvey picked the strike as the perfect backdrop to his final crime novel Darkness, Darkness.
It’s 2014 and Resnick is virtually retired. Back during the strike he was running an intelligence gathering unit in north Notts. His team of undercover officers were sent out to mix and mingle, working as spies, their information reported back to the police authorities in London.
When a body is discovered in an old mining town (the fictional Bledwell Vale), under the ruins of a housing block recently knocked down, Resnick is asked to help. Back in ’84 a young woman went missing. Resnick had worked the area and known many of the locals, and has memories that might open a case that’s gone cold. The missing woman is Jenny Hardwick, part of the strike movement and wife of a man that continued to work. The conflict is never forced nor contrived and the reader gets to experience the events of the time through flashbacks as Jenny’s world exists in parallel to Resnick’s 2014 case. Getting to know and like Jenny adds another dimension to the book and lets the reader care about the victim the way Resnick has always cared about them.
Thatcher, Scargill, the police, the scabs and the strikers are all under fire here and yet there’s a humanity that offers understanding to both sides of the picket line. The lasting damage to whole communities and individual families in never underplayed and the repercussions of that time are still evident within a changing police force. What hasn’t changed in thirty years is the existence of domestic violence and this is confronted, whilst Resnick must also look back at his younger career and a case high on suspects and low on leads. This is a clever way of bringing the series to a conclusion.
Immensely readable, important, and well-paced, it’s a fine who-dun-it and much more besides.
As for Resnick’s farewell, Harvey considered his options, including bumping off his hero, and evidence of that contemplation is found in a fitting finale.