Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Scotland Yard’s Homicide and Serious Crime Unit is overstretched and its officers may find themselves required to work on several cases at once. The time and attention they would wish to give to one case they either have to sacrifice or delegate to junior officers. DCI Karen Shields, John Harvey’s latest detective, is one example.
Fortunately, she has staff she can trust and forensic colleagues who come in with the information she needs. That is good – because villains and victims make it difficult to know what has happened, what is going on or what is going to happen. Take Karen’s latest case – a teenager found dead on Hampstead Heath. He was an immigrant, an alleged student who had never taken up his college place, who had given a false address on his papers. Who would know who he was if his pay-as-you-go telephone SIM card had been found after a finger-tip search? Would you then, though, expect the people he had called to deny knowing him? Perhaps you would, but would you wonder why, or would you suspect the reason is that they already appear in HOLMES? If you were lucky you might start to see that dead Moldovan youth is just one point in a giant network. If you were unlucky you might think that there were people who did not want that to happen.
Our SHOTS review of Good Bait is appearing later than others, although we received our copy in good time. You may have seen some of those other reviews – negative. SHOTS has re-read Good Bait, not trusting its first impressions, and quite simply Good Bait is a book that stands up to re-reading. In fact, it improves.
John Harvey’s narrative style has intensified: told in the third person it uses an almost telegraphese intense Point-Of-View, swapping between its two protagonists, even though neither is necessarily sympathetic, which does not make for easy reading (as an example, because the characters think of themselves as “Karen”, “Alex” etc, I’ve taken her surname from the blurb, I have not found her addressed as “Shields” anywhere).
Meanwhile, Harvey creates a parallel plot to Karen Shields’ investigations – Cornish police officer Trevor Cordon takes time off as he tries to track down the drug addict daughter of a recently deceased former friend (and another drug addict). Cordon’s story has a love interest (the one thing missing from Karen’s, who has moved into a sex-less stage after a youth of one night stands), but seems to drag, especially during an attempted escape to France. Most of the people Karen interviews are inarticulate losers, some are just holding on with Karen barely able to help. The worlds seen by Karen and by Cordon are both unrelenting with no sign of improvement coming.
All threads eventually merge but what makes Good Bait so interesting is the way that the investigation opens the motives for murder. Initially without any motive, then with the possibility of a racist killing, the story opens into a world of local, national and international drug smuggling, with gangs having hierarchies within themselves and between themselves; their kingpins hiding their relationships, yet never able to do so completely.
One of the ultimate clues revolves around a van rental, something very basic but tying one of these figures to a massacre. Only mentioned indirectly in news reports, something like these criminal relationships played a part in the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, while the hierarchy of street gangs and knife killings tying back to organised crime also played a part in the Ben Kinsella murder case in 2008 (which received unusual levels of reporting due to his sister being a TV actress). That makes Good Bait contemporaneous, and in telling it John Harvey is able to put a soundtrack to a world we would prefer other people to put away for us.