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Harvey, John - 'Good Bait'
Hardback: 352 pages (Jan. 2012) Publisher: William Heinemann ISBN: 0434021628

GOOD BAIT is a novel of two stories told in parallel. DCI Karen Shields of the Met's Homicide and Serious Crime team is pushing herself to the limit to contain a seemingly ever-increasing seething mass of street crime, drug dealing and other incidents. One of these is the discovery of the stabbed body of a teenage boy on Hampstead Heath. Karen's team investigates, soon establishing a connection with Moldova (a small Eastern European country, once part of the Soviet Union) so suspect a drug or other illegal trading activity. By digging, Karen uncovers a possible girlfriend of the victim, but soon she's overwhelmed by other cases and the murder enquiry peters out due to lack of leads or anyone willing to talk to the police.

The other main strand of the plot concerns DI Trevor Cordon, an older officer based in Cornwall who, in direct counterpart to Karen, is putting in minimal effort until his retirement, as he's fed up at being passed over for the promotions he felt were his by right but which have gone to people with more modern attitudes and methods. In the past, Cordon took under his wing a young girl, "Letitia", in an attempt to get her away from a life of drug addiction and prostitution (the fate of her mother). The mother now contacts Cordon to tell her that Letitia has disappeared. Cordon follows a trail to London, involving an old colleague Jack Kiley, now a private detective who has appeared in previous work by the author, to help in the search.

As well as alternating the working lives of Karen and Condon, GOOD BAIT is also very much about their personalities. Both see themselves as outsiders, for different reasons. Karen misses her father, who has died fairly recently, and who was unresolved about his daughter joining the police. She's never wanted to settle down domestically, but now feels dissatisfied with her empty private life - she has only one good friend - even though she does get on well with her colleagues, they remain strictly colleagues. As Karen's various investigations (a stimulating challenge for the reader to keep them all straight in the mind) become overshadowed by the possible involvement of international criminals involved in money laundering, huge-scale drug dealing, and people-trafficking, she is drawn to Alix, a woman from the supervising team.

Condon's part of the plot, on the other hand, is not as successful. I can't write much about it without revealing whether or not he finds Letitia, but it is much less satisfactory (and seems much less realistic) than the Karen chapters, not least the role of Kiley in being around whenever Condon needs something. Condon regrets his bitter marriage and the fact that he's never been a good father to his now-estranged son. He spends an inordinate amount of time listening to name-checked music recordings. All in all, he's a difficult character in whom to have sympathy, based on his past and his rather short-sighted, passive present behaviour.

Eventually it is Karen's good and energetic police work that provides the operation with its success, and though Condon provides a crucial link that enables Karen's superiors in the upper echelons of the security forces to put together the picture of what is going on, it is perhaps deliberate on the part of the author that Condon's lack of real interest in his chosen profession is paralleled by his lead turning out to be the most disappointing element, for the police, of their operation.

By far the strongest parts of the book concern Karen - her personality, the cases she has to keep pressing on with, her methods of dealing with the lowlife she constantly encounters, the dogged detection by which she tracks down elements in a criminal network, and her reflections on the meaning of life generally (which are not overdone). She was a relatively minor character in a previous novel by this author, COLD IN HAND, and I hope we'll see much more of her in future.

I should not end this review without expressing admiration for the author's writing style, as well as an appreciation of the many telling asides and references to contemporary socio-economic issues that permeate the pages.

Read another review of GOOD BAIT.

Maxine Clarke, England
January 2012

Maxine blogged at Petrona.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 26/01/2013 10:52