By John Harvey

Owl Books, PB, $11, (274 pages)

Reviewed by Anthony Smith

Some of the best hard-bolied crime writing of the past decade has come from Britain. I'm using the term "hard-boiled" loosely here to include psychological terror as well, which this new group of British writers excels at. It's also gritty, dark, brutally realistic, emotionally wrenching, and just plain damn good in the words department. And of all the great stuff out there, two police procedural series have been consistently great and getting better with every book: Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus, and John Harvey's Charlie Resnick.

Off Minor is the fourth in the series, which is now up to nine (I've read that Harvey will end it with the tenth one, but who knows yet?), and was exceptional. The story begins with the discovery a young girl's body, one that had gone missing two months prior, one of Resnick's cases. Within days, another young girl goes missing as well, within a mile of the last girl's abduction spot. Determined not to let the same fate happen again if they could help it, Resnick and his team move into high gear trying to find the girl, turning every rock and following the few scattered clues desperately.

In the book, Harvey shows us the emotional lives of all the characters, sometimes with quick photographic yet powerful images. He also further develops the ensemble cast of detectives under Resnick's command. They have fully drawn feelings and lives that come through as they perform their duties. They are not supercops, just good ones struggling under the pressures of the job and the depression that hits after seeing so much death and depravity, still trying to make lives for themselves outside the office. The victim's parents are shown in the same way: No cliches here. Just the blunt faces of people coping with horror.

The story is well told, the characters fully drawn, the language fresh and tight. Harvey gives us the total package: Great plot, great writing, emotional depth. And as things move on, he tosses in surprises as well, which I thought really added something special. Nothing abrupt, no tricks. Everything fits.

Very, very highly recommended book, and I'll go further than that: Start with Lonely Hearts and read all nine. Each novel has it's own distinct flavor to it even though all involve Resncik and his investigators. And if you want more great British crime after that, start on Ian Resnick, Minnette Walters, Rupert Thomson, Martin Amis (Night Train), Will Self (extreme, though. He's a great one, but very graphic and darkly funny), every "Cracker" movie starring Robbie Coltrane (the best TV show ever, I think), and enjoy.

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