cover image Easy Meat

Easy Meat

John Harvey. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4148-4

Harvey (Cold Light; Rough Treatment) is a hard-bitten British poet of urban angst. His latest gritty crime novel, set in a provincial English city that is clearly Nottingham, has a particularly tough theme: gay male rape. Young ne'er-do-well Nicky Snape, 15, arrested after bludgeoning an elderly couple during a robbery, mysteriously hangs himself on his first night in juvenile detention. Then seemingly conventional, soon-to-retire police inspector Bill Aston, conducting an investigation into the lad's suicide, is found brutally beaten to death. The central mystery is whether these events are connected, and Harvey's police squad is set to find out. Led by laconic Charlie Resnick, the squad is a beautifully observed bunch of men and women whose profane relationships with each other and their suspects are rendered with unerring accuracy. What makes Harvey's grim world bearable is his compassion: even Nicky's hapless mother is wretchedly human; Resnick himself is allowed a dour little romance with a young teacher; and the most intolerant and racist member of the police squad ultimately gets help from an unexpected quarter. Harvey's taut, fluent style moves easily between idle banter and electrifying violence, and only a slightly over-the-top windup is a flaw in an otherwise haunting and memorable performance. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Sept.)