Doesn’t time go fast when you’re getting old! It is now thirty years since the miners’ strike and twenty-five years since John Harvey launched Charlie Resnick on to the Nottingham landscape. In this, purported, last volume devoted to Charlie (and I am only the only one who hopes it isn’t) John Harvey celebrates, or at least takes stock, of both those events.
I can’t think of any mainstream literature which focussed on the miners’ strike but then perhaps I was already spending too much effort reading crime fiction at the time. Certainly, the topic was too good for some of our crime fiction writers to ignore. The immortal Reg Hill gave us Underworld, still my favourite Dalziel and Pascoe, as a parody of Dante’s Inferno. In a more social realist vein David Peace produced the magnificent GB84 which sent shivers down the spine and rekindled fear of the police heavy mobs smashing down your doors in the middle of the night. Equally gritty was Martyn Waites’ Born with Punches which portrayed the effects of the strike on the communities in the North East. With all of those authors there were no prizes for guessing whose side they were on. And there’s no prizes for guessing whose side I was on.
Thirty years on, and the recent release of Government documents clearly shows that the strike was engineered by Thatcher and the NCB boss Macgregor to close down the pits and to kill off the unions, the NUM especially. And with the demotion of the winding wheels and the pit heads came the collapse of the mining communities as the jobs disappeared, shops closed, and families were forever divided between those who struck and those who scabbed. Many families just upped sticks their memories scarred by the events and their futures severely blighted. That was Thatcher’s legacy – even for those who fell for her lies and thought, with the Union of Democratic Miners, that the coal industry had any kind of future while she was the tenant of 10 Downing Street.
John Harvey has not revealed previously Charlie’s role during the miners’ strike but that is the foundation for this last outing. Apparently, he was drafted into the villages between Mansfield and Worksop to gather intelligence on the NUM activities and feed that back to a central intelligence unit. That included planting plain-clothed coppers among the pickets and demonstrators and, where feasible, mixing with both strikers and scabs. Knowing Charlie as we do, it was not surprising that he didn’t delight overmuch in that role and could even win the respect, if not the trust, of some of the local NUM organisers and the Women’s Support Groups. Someone who loves Thelonius Monk can’t be all bad can they?
Darkness, Darkness opens on a Charlie Resnick retired from policing proper and filling his time working as a civilian attached to the Nottinghamshire Constabulary helping with interviews and other mundane work. At home, time lags and the ghosts still lurk. Firstly that of Lyn Kellog, one time girl friend, murdered on his doorstep some years earlier. Secondly, those of Charlie’s Be Bop heroes, Thelonius Monk and the like, who still haunt his cd collection. And finally, there’s Dizzy his now arthritic cat.
The two timelines – Charlie’s and the year since the miners’ strike – come together when the skeleton of a woman is found when a street of miners’ cottages is being demolished. Almost immediately, Resnick guesses that the body is that of Jenny Hardwick, wife of a working miner but also one of the leading lights of the women’s support group in the village where the family lived. At the time of her disappearance there were several theories to explain what was felt to be a temporary absence. But with time the more likely explanation seemed to be that she had run off with one of the NUM pickets from Yorkshire, leaving her scab husband and three young children. Given his knowledge of the local history, Charlie is drafted into the investigation to assist the young detective, Catherine Njoroge, in her first solo case.
The story dovetails neatly between the evolution of the miners’ strike and its impact on Jenny Hardwick in particular, and the subsequent police investigation of her murder. Side by side the two strands make for a really gripping story with lots of interesting little tributaries. In the end it is Charlie who provides the key to Jenny’s murder and unmasks her killer. His thirty years as one of the nation’s favourite detectives and a puppet for one of the country’s finest crime fiction writers come to an end with him back as a civilian investigator ruminating from a bench on Slab Square in Nottingham whether to venture up to his favourite record shop and buy a new Thelonius Monk cd he has seen advertised.
A fitting end, but a very sad one nevertheless. Someone, somewhere once remarked about George Pelecanos’ books that, “if you could hear the music on page one it could only be George Pelecanos”. I’d like to paraphrase that: “If you could hear the rambling fingers of Monk on every page it had to be John Harvey.” So thanks Charlie, thanks John for all the good times you’ve given me. This sentimental fool still wishes it didn’t have to end this way. And I shall be reminded pleasantly of Charlie every time I reach for one of my Monk albums.