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Criminally good reads…

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Bradford

A. A. Dhand- Girl Zero/ Felicia Yap-Yesterday

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent…

And so we return to the seedy underbelly of Bradford in Girl Zero, the striking follow up to the excellent debut Streets of Darkness, that introduced us to D.I. Harry Virdee. Following the brutal murder of his niece, and the pressure this puts on Virdee in terms of his family loyalty, and the boundaries of his professional status as a police officer, Dhand is given ample opportunity to explore the issue of morality. For me, this was the absolute crux of the book, as Virdee has to navigate this intensely personal investigation, whilst balancing the demands of his brother Ron, a lynchpin in Bradford’s criminal community. Throughout the book, I kept drawing on the analogy of angels and demons, as Harry in particular, repeatedly seemed to be in conflict between these two forces. Dhand captures the tension and frustrations that exist between the brothers perfectly throughout, and as Harry’s professional loyalties are stretched and bent to the limit, their relationship and quest for justice lies at the very heart of the book.

With the estrangement from his parents because of marrying outside of his own religion, but obviously by necessity being drawn back into these familial conflicts, this added an extra frisson to the plot as the whole. As in the first book, Dhand explores the painful truths that exist in many Asian families when love overrides religious boundaries, and the exile that often occurs when individual are seen to be turning their back on their faith, and going against the wishes of their family. He handles this sensitively and clearsightedly throughout, with this storyline injecting an intensely human feel to what could have been a linear police procedural. Likewise, Dhand portrays the city of Bradford with an unflinching realism, unafraid to expose the social ills of this city, but with an underlying affection that the reader can easily discern.

I enjoyed Girl Zero very much, perhaps more so than the first book where I did criticise one aspect of it. It not only works as an effective and readable thriller, but is underscored by the some very real human dilemmas that heightened my enjoyment even more. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before. You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did. Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?
Can you trust your husband?
Can you trust yourself?

As the intriguing tagline of debut thriller, Yesterday, reads, “How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?” , my interest was thoroughly piqued by the seemingly unique premise of a thriller that would explore memory,  and the unreliability of our recollection of past experiences.

Undoubtedly, this is a clever premise, and for the most part I was ready to be convinced by the unique difficulties this societal structure of Monos and Duos would present in the course of a murder investigation. I’m afraid to say though, that I, in common with quite a few reviewers, was not entirely convinced by the way the theme of memory played out within the book, with some serious flaws in the way that certain memories would come to the surface within the structured remit of having either 24 or 48 hour recollections. I was intrigued by the way that memories were recorded, and the fallibility of this, using electronic diaries, but I think the mechanics of this were stretched in credibility. I also had an overriding feeling that too many elements of the crime genre were mixed into the central plot, as well as a huge imitation, and not entirely successful endeavour, to draw on the field of dystopian fiction. Also, the book is punctuated by quotes and the factual presentation of research material, that inhibits the flow of the story, and at times reads like an undergraduate’s dissertation.

I wanted to like the characters, and care about Yap’s startling portrayal of a woman’s descent into mental instability, and a marriage in crisis, but aside from the central police protagonist, Detective Hans Richardson, there was little to endear me to their plight. They seemed very closed off on an emotional level, and normally this reader would begin to form some alliance with a certain character on an empathetic level, but I just found them intensely dislikeable and weak. I also had a problem with the closing section of the book, but in the spirit of non-spoilers, I will not identify the problem. Truthfully, I was much more drawn to the intelligence and trials of Richardson, with Yap’s portrayal of him working much more favourably, and in tune with her presentation of the book as a crime thriller. I found myself itching to get back to the segments featuring this character, and enjoyed the air of subterfuge that colours him,  the pressure this puts on him within the remit of his position as a detective, and how this comes to the fore within the progress of this somewhat turgid investigation.

Obviously, this is my personal opinion, and as Yesterday has already garnered much praise throughout the media, I am probably only one of a few that couldn’t quite be convinced by it. I have no reticence in praising Yap’s attempt to use an interesting premise to play with the boundaries of the crime genre, but I did rather feel that too much had been thrown at it to produce a coherent whole. Maybe just a little too clever for its own good…

(With thanks to Wildfire for the ARC)

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Summer Thrills- Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost, Jack Grimwood- Moskva, A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

It is this time of year when peoples’ thoughts turn to summer holidays, and as a bookseller I begin to receive the inevitable requests for the best books to take to while away the time on the plane, on the beach, in a soggy tent, tramping through the forests of Borneo…

So with this in mind here are some recent reads that more than deserve a bit of that precious hand luggage space.

chris

CHRIS EWAN: LONG TIME LOST

Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name. But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.

Having quickly established himself as one of my particular favourites Ewan brings us, Long Time Lost, which takes us on a chilling adventure throughout Britain and Europe, focusing on the work of a small team on a personal mission to protect individuals under witness protection. From its suspenseful opening to a beautifully weighted unfolding of a dark and dangerous tale, this book totally justifies the label of ‘unputdownable’. What struck me as I was reading was the sheer cleverness of plotting that Ewan demonstrates throughout, fortified by a band of characters that range from emotionally damaged, to quirky, to downright dastardly. The two main protagonists of Nick and Kate are incredibly appealing, and with both having more layers than a proverbial onion, Ewan slowly draws back the curtain on the tumultuous events in their lives that have shaped Nick’s role as a protector, and how Kate’s character evolves as she finds herself increasingly under threat as a valuable witness. Ewan uses feints and red herrings to great effect, wrong footing our perceptions of certain characters as the story progresses. By slickly moving from country to country there is a wonderful momentum and sense of movement so just as you adjust yourself to the mortal danger our protagonists face, you are speedily transported to another setting where more tension awaits you. This also makes it incredibly difficult to know when to stop reading, as there is a real sense of you wanting to see what’s around the next corner. It’s thrilling, unpredictable and engrossing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

moskva

JACK GRIMWOOD: MOSKVA

Red Square, 1985. The naked body of a young man is left outside the walls of the Kremlin; frozen solid – like marble to the touch – missing the little finger from his right hand.

A week later, Alex Marston, the headstrong fifteen year old daughter of the British Ambassador disappears. Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox, posted to Moscow to keep him from telling the truth to a government committee, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption. But Russia is reluctant to give up the worst of her secrets. As Fox’s investigation sees him dragged deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own so his fears grow, with those of the girl’s father, for Alex’s safety. And if Fox can’t find her soon, she looks likely to become the next victim of a sadistic killer whose story is bound tight to that of his country’s terrible past …

It’s a brave writer indeed who pitches up with an idea for a thriller set in 1980’s Moscow, as we all know and love Gorky Park, and many have failed in its wake. But good news crime buddies, Grimwood has cracked it with the atmospheric and claustrophobic Moskva. With impeccable plotting, research and narrative tension, Grimwood has produced one of the best Soviet set thrillers I have read. Drawing on, and using to great effect, all the inherent and documented fear and suspicion so redolent of Soviet life within this period, Grimwood has crafted a supremely intelligent serial killer thriller, with a depth of characterisation that will draw in admirers of other exponents of this subgenre. As the depth of  conspiracy and concealment begins to reveal itself, frustrating Fox’s investigation of Alex’s disappearance, there is a crackling tension to the book throughout, compounded by Grimwood’s unflinching analysis of the weaknesses and dangers of the Soviet state that so consistently thwart Fox, giving him a slippery grasp on truth amongst the smoke and mirrors emanating from the echelons of power in Moscow. I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling your reading of this one, but you must seek this one out. It’s a terrific read, and Grimwood demonstrates again his real flexibility as a writer. Add to your wish list now.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

9780593076644

A. A. DHAND: STREETS OF DARKNESS

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body. Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away. Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

Streets of Darkness is to my knowledge the first crime book set in Bradford that I have encountered, and with only having visited the city a couple of times, my curiosity was instantly aroused with the mouthwatering prospect of unexplored crime territory. Unlike other British police procedural writers, Dhand paints an entirely bleak and unflinching portrait of this city, without the little moments of affection that normally punctuate other writers’ portrayals of their home towns. The image that Dhand portrays of his city is unrelentingly grim and depressing, and there is a downtrodden air amongst its inhabitants that hammers home the true picture of inner city deprivation and neglect that this city has suffered. Even allowing for the rare moments of happiness that Virdee experiences on the cusp of the birth of his first child, his character, with all his personal torments and professional frustrations, is a perfect mirror of Bradford itself. Dhand also highlights the long standing religious intolerance experienced by those marrying outside of their religion- Virdee is a Sikh, but is married to Saima, a Muslim- and I very much enjoyed Dhand’s exploration of the role of religion in their marriage and personal beliefs. Indeed, the attendant problems of faith loom large for Virdee throughout, both personally and professionally, as he becomes embroiled in a violent and dangerous investigation, that soon threatens all he holds dear, against a backdrop of a city thrown into a state of social unrest. Virdee is a traditional maverick, and goes out on a limb in the course of the book, despite operating whilst suspended as a police officer. Despite his downtrodden and naturally pessimistic air I did quite take to him as a character,  but was a little unconvinced by the slightly schmaltzy feel when Dhand turned his attentions to Virdee’s home life.  There was also an annoyingly predictable plot device linked to this that did make me punch the air in frustration as it wasn’t needed, and rather undid the fact that this was a very well-plotted and compelling depiction of inner city strife and burgeoning violence up to that point. However, that niggle aside I would still strongly recommend this debut. Grim, violent and a welcome addition to the British crime writing scene.

(With thanks to Bantam Press for the ARC)

 

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