Book Review: Far Cry by John Harvey

Far Cry is the second in John Harvey’s series set in the Fens of eastern England, and is simply a superb type-example of a crime novel. The recurring characters are the unlikeable DI Will Grayson and his sergeant Helen Walker, a more interesting yet somewhat enigmatic, less realised, figure. They are based in Cambridge, Far crythough Will lives in the remote countryside outside Ely with his wife Lorraine and their two young children, and there are certainly domestic tensions in their set-up.

This novel is about the disappearance of children. Three years previously, a 12-year-old girl who had gone missing a few days before was found collapsed by the side of a road. Will had been part of the investigation that had eventually found the man responsible for the abduction, Mitchell Roberts. Now, Will, to his disgust, finds that Roberts has been released from jail, so decides to follow and threaten him a few times, causing Roberts to break the terms of his probation and run away. Will’s bullying tactics are doubly idiotic because not only does Roberts’s disappearance potentially put other girls in danger, but when another local girl does vanish, he’s the obvious prime suspect.

In another flashback, a woman called Ruth remembers a summer of ten or more years ago, when her 12-year-old daughter vanished on a camping trip to Cornwall with a schoolfriend and her family. To all outside appearances, Ruth has adapted to her loss, having moved from London to Ely and remarrying, but this is just a facade. Her internal devastation is conveyed brilliantly and movingly, as she goes about her daily life  –  those around her occasionally and inadvertently scratch the surface of her inner and constant despair, and are uncomprehendingly shocked by it.

Will and Helen’s investigation of the newly missing girl turns up other similar incidences over the past 15 years or so. When the old Cornwall case comes into Will’s sights, he wonders whether there could there be a relationship between them or whether the similarities between that case and one of the recent ones is mere coincidence. Will's and Helen's attempts to dig into the old cases, as well as follow up all the leads they can about the new one, provide the tension in the novel as the hours and days tick by and the chances of the girl turning up alive and/or unhurt recede.

The book is measured and superbly plotted, perhaps not containing many real surprises in the outcomes of the cases, but it is a tale wonderfully told, with great feeling, and complete with many small observations of the ‘civilised’ lives of people in professional jobs, who appreciate culture, but who may be living with secrets, or who are closer to the edge than they themselves realise.

There are plenty of enjoyable subplots and twists to the novel that I’ll not address here – my only slight dislike was for the odd unnecessary interlude of casual or crude sex that did not seem to fit in with the more subtle story that is unfolding. This minor criticism does not detract significantly from an otherwise excellent book. I continue to be intrigued as to whether or not Will’s unlikeable, somewhat sexist and not very bright character is intentional on the part of the author. Will is interesting because he is definitely not a typical “gruff but sympathetic” protagonist of a detective series – he’s a bit of a macho prat, frankly. But in this novel he is certainly shown the error of his ways by the intelligence and sensitivity of his female colleagues, and the bravery of his wife, so perhaps he’ll have matured a bit by the next novel in the series!

Euro Crime review of Gone to Ground, the first book about Will and Helen. Review by Geoff Jones.

Another review of Far Cry at Reviewing the Evidence (review by Sharon Wheeler).

Books by John Harvey.

Author website.