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Darkness & Light: A Frank Elder Mystery    by John Harvey order for
Darkness & Light
by John Harvey
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Meet Frank Elder. Now in his fifties, Elder is four years into his retirement from the Major Crimes Unit in Nottingham, England, and he currently enjoys a quiet and uneventful life in Cornwall, which is more than three hundred miles away from his former home.

His ex-wife Joanne, however, has just called Elder and has asked for his help. Fifty-five year old Claire Meecham, the sister of Joanne's friend Jennie Preston, disappeared several days earlier from her home, and nobody has a clue as to what might have happened to her. Reluctantly, Elder leaves his idyllic Cornish seclusion and returns to Nottingham to offer his considerable expertise and assistance.

When Elder begins looking into Claire Meecham's disappearance, however, it quickly becomes apparent that the seemingly reclusive and withdrawn Nottingham widow and mother of two grown children was not really the kind of person everyone in her family had believed. She had been covertly living a rather different life, and in the course of that life she had come into contact with an interesting array of personalities. As Elder begins following the clues that Claire left behind, the case suddenly becomes much more challenging and dangerous: A dead body is discovered.

The local police and Elder find themselves working together, trying to sort out the evidence related to the apparent murder, and they soon realize that the current murder investigation and the reasons for Claire's disappearance seem to have quite a bit in common with an unsolved murder that had occurred eight years earlier when Elder was still on the job with the department. Is it just coincidence or is there a connection between the several cases?

Elder, wisely retained by the Nottingham police department as a civilian consultant, is asked to look into the eight-year-old murder case while they look into the current cases. Perhaps he can uncover evidence - even at this late date - that will help police solve the most recent murder case and the disappearance of Claire Meecham. Together, however, Elder and the police will find themselves dealing with plenty of witnesses, quite a few potential suspects, several perplexing red herrings, and one or two (or more) seriously disturbed individuals.

Darkness & Light, following the action outlined above, moves along methodically and deliberately; the past persistently intrudes upon the present, and individuals' self-interests dangerously interfere with truth and decency. Abundant in its brilliant characterizations and luxurious in its attention to characters' relationships, John Harvey's latest Frank Elder mystery is certain to appeal to sophisticated mystery readers who are understandably weary of the many superficial mysteries that flood the current market. Eschewing sensationalized violence, gratuitous sex, and a superficially manipulated plot, Harvey has written a top-notch, character-driven, literary novel that also qualifies as exceptional mystery.

Harvey, accomplished author of the critically and popularly successful Charlie Resnick novels and short stories, has previously featured Frank Elder in Ash & Bone (a 2005 Los Angeles Times Best Book Finalist) and Flesh & Blood (the winner of the British Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger Award and a 2005 Barry Award). As the Chicago Tribune has noted, 'Harvey has a fine hand for simply drawn, beautifully realized characters.' The San Francisco Chronicle calls Harvey a 'superlative storyteller.' The Telegraph has also praised Frank Elder's creator: 'To say John Harvey writes police procedurals is like saying Shakespeare was good at dialogue.' All of that leaves me with little else to say except, Ditto!

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