Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review of Streets of Darkness by AA Dhand (Bantam Press, 2016)

Detective Hardeep ‘Harry’ Virdee should be on the fast track up the career ladder in the West Yorkshire police.  However, he’s been suspended for assaulting a fellow Sikh who insulted him and his heavily pregnant Muslim wife over their mixed marriage.  While out jogging his discovers the crucified body of the newly elected Asian MP for Bradford, a swastika carved on his forehead.  His boss wants Virdee to investigate the case unofficially using his network of informants and in particular to find Lucas Dwight, a former leader of the BNP in the city who has recently been released from prison and whose blood is found at the scene.  With a large multi-ethnic festival taking place in the city, racial tensions already high, and behind-the-scenes moves to fill the power vacuum and exact non-lawful justice, the stakes are potentially explosive. What should be a relatively straightforward hunt quickly takes a sharp twist, leaving Harry wondering who he can trust as he scrambles to determine the truth before the city is set ablaze.

Given the recent Brexit vote and another spike in racial tension in the UK during the campaign and afterwards, Streets of Darkness is a very timely addition to British crime fiction.  Importantly, rather than simply play to racial stereotypes and a simple black and white societal divisions, AA Dhand paints a more complex picture of relations within and across different ethnic groups.  Moreover, in a bold move, he manages to tell a police procedural in which the main detective is outside the force due to being suspended.  In fact, ‘Harry’ Virdee is a consummate outsider character having been ostracised from his Sikh family after he married a Muslim and he’s an Asian cop on a predominately white force.  Virdee’s task is to solve over the course of a single day the murder of a newly elected Asian MP for the city in which the prime suspect is the former BNP leader, while different parties are seeking to take advantage of the situation or exact revenge and some cops seem to be in-the-pocket of whoever is pulling strings.  To add to his woes his pregnant wife is one week overdue and wants to celebrate the day’s religious ceremonies. The compressed timeline, the competing interests, and Virdee’s personal situation make for a tense and fast moving plot.  Indeed, there’s much to like about the story, which has plenty of twists and turns.  However, the tale is reliant on a couple of plot devices that felt a little forced, with a subplot that stretches back over forty years that felt too coincidental, and the pace means that the character development is a little underdeveloped beyond basic description and background history.  The latter is somewhat unavoidable and will no doubt be elaborated in the next couple of books in the series.  Overall, an interesting, engaging and topical debut that ends with a nice hook for the next book.

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