My friend Belinda Hollyer recommended John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick novels to me. I feasted on all ten of them (he has since written two more) and relished the elegant writing and plotting. I didn’t realise that Harvey had been around as long as he had – by then, some thirty years.
He began as a ‘pulp’ novelist, like a number of crime writers who have gone on to achieve mainstream success (such as Elmore Leonard). In a Guardian profile at the time I first read him – just after he’d won the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for a Lifetime’s Achievement – he said to Nicholas Wroe, ‘Up until Lonely Hearts  I had just been charging ahead … That was what I did. But for some reason, with Resnick, I got my head up and began to think about what I was writing.’
He charged ahead because, as he explained in an interview in Shots magazine: ‘I’ve always found it difficult to simply sit around and do nothing – and I’m fortunate to have found pleasure in a variety of things. Spending a lot of my adult life living in my own has helped to make me the kind of person who plans his time so as not to waste too much of it.’
The Resnick books are set in Nottingham, which became Harvey’s adopted home. After contemplating journalism, he became a teacher of English and Drama in the 60s and 70s, and turned to writing at the suggestion of a friend who was a ghost-writer but who didn’t have time for a particular commission. Harvey said, ‘(the friend) helped me with the outline, then I wrote it under the name of Thom Ryder and was paid £250.”
He’d caught the bug. In the next school holidays, we wrote another book and soon became a prolific writer of westerns – which he’d do enjoyed as a child – under different pseudonyms. Under his own name, he became publisher of an influential and highly respected poetry press called Slow Dancer, which he ran until the late 90s (though you can still see its work on John’s website). When the demand for westerns faded, he began writing popular crime fiction, again under different names.
Harvey also started writing for TV. ‘I’d just finished writing a series for Central TV called Hard Cases, which was filmed in Nottingham and dealt with a fictional probation service team. It gave me the idea of doing an ensemble piece based in the city. Hill Street Blues was something of an inspiration behind the TV series and Lonely Hearts, with Resnick as a middle-management police officer along the lines of Hill St’s Frank Furillo. As the Resnick series developed I realised I wanted to show something about inner city life at a certain time of change.’
With Resnick, John Harvey became a name sought after by fans of British crime fiction. After Resnick, he introduced us to another detective, Frank Elder, in longer and perhaps more sombre books which I enjoyed no less. Start with either detective and you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a snapshot of John’s long and varied career in his own words …
- What was the first book you wrote?
Avenging Angel under the pen name Thom Ryder, published by New English Library in 1975.
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
I can’t choose a single book, sorry. I’d like to be remembered, if at all, for the Resnick series.
- Is there a book you’ve abandoned partway through?
No. Probably several I should have, though.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
Anything as good as early Hemingway, early Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, et cetera et cetera.
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
In a True Light.
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
I’m honestly surprised when I hear that some of the books (and their characters) mean (on whatever level) so much to some readers some of the time.
- What book do you wish you’d written?
See my answer to question 4. In terms of crime fiction I’d have been very happy to have written either (or, better, both) of Peter Temple’s two most recent novels, The Broken Shore and Truth.
- What are you writing now?
A dramatisation for radio of the fourth Qiu Xiaolong novel, A Case of Two Cities. Coming up (hopefully) a batch of new poems to work on and finish; a recently commissioned short story – probably featuring Jack Kiley; possibly a new Frank Elder novel.
For more background about John and his books, visit his website. You can keep up to date with him on Twitter: