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Gone to Ground by John Harvey – Crime fiction, cinema and urban violence

Gone to Ground by John Harvey (2007) French title: Traquer les ombres. Translated by Mathilde Martin.

Gone to Ground by John Harvey is a crime fiction novel set in Cambridge and Nottingham. I didn’t know this writer and bought it at Quais du Polar, attracted by the cover and the publisher. (You can’t go wrong with Rivages Noir) After a quick read of his biography on Wikipedia, I see that John Harvay has written more that 100 books and his best known for his Charlie Resnick series. Have you ever read this series? Is it good?

Gone to Ground is a standalone novel, though. In this one,  Inspector Will Grayson and his partner Helen Walker have to investigate the murder of Stephen Bryan. His murderer beat him to death in his bathroom. There’s no trace of someone breaking in. Grayson and Walker will follow several leads at the same time. Bryan was gay and had just broken up with his last partner, Mark. Is it a homophobic crime? Did Mark not take the breakup well and kill Stephen?

Is it work related? Indeed, Stephen was working on the biography of Stella Leonard. She died in the 1930s and belonged to a rich and powerful family. They don’t want to hear about this bio. Is there something to hide in Stella’s past?

We follow the investigation as the two inspectors try to find out what happened to Stephen Bryan. I have to say that I didn’t expect the ending. Harvey knows Cambridge and Nottingham pretty well and Gone to Ground has a good sense of place. The writing is fluid, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader’s attention.

The police team is a bit too staged, in my opinion. The contrast between Will Grayson and Helen Walker is convenient to feed the narration. Grayson is married to Lorraine and they have two children, a toddler and a baby. They have just moved out of the city to live in a house and the commute weighs on Grayson’s days. Helen Walker is single, lives in the city and has a complicated love life. The two have a solid friendship, though and manage to have real discussions.

To be honest, Grayson’s misogynistic side annoyed me. We’re in 2007 and he’s fighting with his wife because she wants to work instead of staying at home to take care of their children? I wanted to tell him “If you think it’s so enviable, why don’t YOU be a stay-at-home father and your wife will have her career?” Helen sides with Lorraine and talks him into accepting the idea that his wife will go back to work. Thanks Helen, for getting through to him.

Despite this minor annoying trait, Gone to Ground was entertaining, a good story to take your mind off something else and we seem to be in dire need of this kind of books now.

PS: I include the covers of the French and English versions of the book. Same book, totally different vibe. Both are accurate. The French one puts the stress on the cinema thread, the story about Stella, the 1930s actress. The English one shows the homophobic violence in Nottingham, which is another side of the story. I find the difference between the two editions absolutely fascinating and I wonder what made each publisher choose this cover instead of another one.

PPS: John Harvey is British, I wonder why it’s written ‘translated from the American’ in my book, just like I wonder how Folio could write on the back cover of The Guards (upcoming billet), that its author Ken Bruen, an Irishman from Galway, is one the most talented British writer of his generation. *sigh*

  1. Vishy
    March 27, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    Wonderful review, Emma! I haven’t heard of John Harvey before. Glad to know that you liked this book. The ending seems to be unexpected and wonderful from what you have said. I loved what you said about the English and French covers. Your comment about the Irish author being called British made me smile 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • March 28, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks Vishy.
      The French and English covers of books are often very different. I like to put both in my billets, just for the fun of comparing them.


  2. March 27, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    I imagine those views were still around in 2007, they probably still are now in some households, but I’d have thought they’d be seen as absolutely antediluvian by then.

    Between that and the pairing not totally convincing you I’ll probably pass for now, not because it doesn’t sound good but because I’m not getting that much reading done presently so I don’t have space to add something in unless it really grabs me.

    I’ve heard of the series, haven’t read it though.


    • March 28, 2020 at 9:54 pm

      I found incredible that a young woman in an English household had to negotiate with her husband to take a part-time job. I’m sure it still exists, alas but it didn’t help me bond with the character.

      Not an essential book to read. If you’re looking for something that will hold your attention, try The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage. It’s the kind of books I want to buy to all my friends.


  3. March 28, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    I’m so surprised that I’ve never heard of such a prolific author! The French cover would appeal to me much more than the British one. I like the sound of the 1930s thread.


    • March 28, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      According to his page on Wikipedia, he has written under several pennames.
      Maybe you know it under another name.

      Liked by 1 person

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