Review: Michael Harvey – The Innocence Game

The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey is change of scene for me. With a few notable exceptions, I tend to shy away from books set on American campuses. Donna Tartt’s excellent The Secret History has proved impossible to better in relation to this theme and I wasn’t surprised to see Harvey’s book likened to it. However, in the search for something different, I gave it a go and found it to be an enjoyable read.

Ian Joyce is enrolled on a graduate course at an elite university that focuses on cold cases that have been forgotten about by the police. A fellow student, the enigmatic and obsessive Jake who has given up a place at a prestigious law school to do the course, presents a case that he wants to focus on: that of a killer who was convicted of a crime that he couldn’t have committed. Jake, Ian and their friend Sarah begin to investigate the case but soon are implicated in a more recent crime. It becomes clear that the Chicago police are involved in not only the original cover-up but are keeping a close watch on more recent events.

The books greatest strength was the tight plotting which gave the story of three disparate students pursuing their individual investigations into the original crime a harmonious feel. The author is clearly confident in dealing with pace and tension and I found myself drawn into the story. There is a fairly shocking and violent scene in the middle of the book that I personally found hard to take. Not for the level of violence, but Harvey’s skill in engaging the reader is such that I was shocked by the assault.

By far, the most interesting character was that of Ian, insecure and living alone in his childhood home, his vulnerability proves to be his greatest strength when faced with adversity. Jake has an otherworldly feel to his character and I didn’t feel as connected to his story although he is a pivotal figure in the book.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Harvey’s books. For a book that I was ambivalent about reading, he won me over. Thanks to Bloomsbury for my copy.

Review: C J Box – Out of Range

Ever since the death of the wonderful Tony Hillerman, I’ve been looking for a writer to fill the gap left by the end of the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series. Nevada Barr is a writer that I am now enjoying although her books are fairly difficult to get hold of in the UK. However, while I was at the Crime Writing festival in Harrogate, I picked up a second-hand copy of C J Box’s Out of Range in one of the town’s bookshops and was immediately transported to the Wyoming landscape. The mixture of setting, well constructed plot and engaging characters was a delight to read.

Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, is attending his mother-in-law’s wedding to a local rancher when he hears the news that fellow warden and friend Will Jensen, has committed suicide. Pickett is asked to temporarily take on the man’s duties which means leaving his wife and family behind and heading to the town of Jackson Hole which unlike Pickett’s hometown of Saddlestring is a hotbed of political and bureaucratic machinations. Pickett is surprised to hear about Will’s drinking and violent temper in the weeks leading up to his death and starts to do a bit of digging around the death. Meanwhile, Marybeth left in Saddlestring with their two children is receiving silent phone calls and asks family friend Nate Romanowski to help out.

I’m often wary about picking up books mid series as character development can be a key part of these slow burning series. In Out of Range, which is the fifth book in the series, there has clearly been plenty of backstory developed for the characters over previous books. The marriage of Marybeth’s sassy mother, who has managed to snare a wealthy rancher was lovely to read about and and her relationship with her son-in-law Joe is an enjoyably prickly one. Nevertheless coming new to the series I didn’t feel hampered by my lack of knowledge of the history of the relationship, rather it made me want to go back and read more of Box’s earlier books.

There is an interesting portrait of a marriage in the book. Joe and Marybeth are suffering form the pressures felt by any couple with young children and busy careers. As Joe’s new role force the couple to live in separate houses, they both struggle with feelings of resentment and loneliness and also attraction to other people. In Joe’s case, this attraction is a major plot line, but Box cleverly balances this out with Marybeth’s increasing reliance on Nate and how this attraction is picked up by her teenage daughter.

As you would expect, depictions of the Wyoming landscape are a major draw of this book. Box highlights the isolation felt by the State’s rangers and adds another layer in the book by making the threat closer to home. It’s a different landscape of course, to Hillerman’s Arizona desert but I found the way in which the setting is integrated into the plot to be very similar. I enjoyed my introcution to Box’s writing and I’m hoping to read other books, hopefully earlier in the series.

Other reviews can be found at Petrona and Is it Me?

The author’s website is here.