GOING DOWN SLOW AND OTHER STORIES
By John Harvey
Five Leaves Publications. 123 pages. £12.99. ISBN 978-1-910170-44-1
Reviewed by Jim Burns
John Harvey rightly has a reputation as one of the best contemporary crime writers, his briskly written novels offering not only page-turning stories, but also a commentary on contemporary society. His books are set in a real world that is instantly recognisable, and he writes insightfully about the people, such as the police and social workers, who have to deal with matters most of us prefer to turn away from.
In the first story in this small, limited edition collection,
Resnick, his Nottingham-based policeman makes an appearance,
investigating the death of a teenager who has fallen or been pushed
off a high-rise balcony. It’s not a glamorous crime world that
Resnick operates in. He visits the boy’s mother in a dreary flat,
and finds her dressed in “cotton draw-string pyjama bottoms,
sweater, fluffy slippers”. He can smell the “off-key sweetness of
cider on her breath as she spoke”, and notices the empty cans on the
table and the recently-opened litre bottle on the floor. Talking to
the boy’s hostile girlfriend takes him into the world of paedophiles
and abused young people.
Resnick does enjoy a decent pint of beer, and occasionally meets a retired miner with who he has formed an “unlikely friendship”. He had been a militant strike-leader, while Resnick ran “an intelligence gathering team during the Miners’ Strike, feeding back information that had contributed to the government decimating the coal fields and bringing the union to its knees”. At the time, he reflects, he thought he was helping to save the country from civil disorder, but now, “with each new revelation prised from previously secret Cabinet archives, he felt that, along with many others, he had been manipulated, used, taken for a ride”.
In the story, “Fedora”, he’s asked to look into the possibility of a once-famous photographer having his past, which involved an affair with a fifteen-year old model, brought to light in the current climate of raking up old misdemeanours and often pillorying the offenders and ruining their professional reputations. Kiley locates the girl, now a grown woman with grandchildren, and discovers she has no regrets about what happened and has no intention of making it public. But neither she nor Kiley have taken account of what journalists will make of even a whisper of scandal. What an article in a Sunday newspaper causes to happen takes the story to a bleak conclusion.
Kiley, like Resnick a jazz fan, is also at the centre of “Dead Dames
Don’t Sing”, the longest story in the book, and my personal
favourite. I’ve written about it before (see
Northern Review of Books,
September, 2016, and
The story of “Dead Dames Don’t Sing” takes us back, at times, to the
bohemian world of Soho in the 1950s, and brings in poetry, pulp
novels, and, missing manuscripts, along with the machinations of
various shady characters. And it allows Kiley to make his usual
caustic comments on what he considers are pretentious people with
dubious claims about the art they produce. I have to say that
There are seven stories in
Going Down Slow, all of them worth reading. If anyone should be
tempted to think of