#BlogTour Parker Bilal- The Heights “Packed with tension, this was an immersive and compelling read.” @Parker_Bilal @blackthornbks

What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat…

I read the first of this scorching new series, The Divinities, some time ago and at the close of the review said how much I was anticipating the next book in the series. Well, Parker Bilal has come up trumps again, and just as the first book made it in to my Top Ten of the Year, The Heights may achieve a similar status…

With the two main characters, ex-detective Cal Drake and forensic pathologist/psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, having now embarked on a closer working relationship in private investigation, Bilal takes this series in an interesting new direction. Drake is as screwed up personally and emotionally as before, with the events of the first book gaining even greater prominence here. Rest assured, the author constructs the story so the reader is fully aware of the previous events, if you missed the previous book. Drake is an interesting character, living life to his own slightly skewed moral compass, and haunted by his previous career in both the military and as an undercover police officer. He is brusque and understandably mistrustful of people generally, but this odd pairing works extremely well, and the small chinks of decency and morality that he seeks to veil do appear from time to time, as he works more closely with the vibrant and outgoing Crane. Not that Crane doesn’t have her own demons, emanating from her very unusual family background, which features heavily in this book, and her own single minded determination, that makes her both forthright and brave. The dynamics of their working relationship propel the plot along at a good pace, and with the differing strands of their investigations, and personal tumult, Bilal does an excellent job of juggling the various tensions that these tangential cases places upon them.

What struck me most with the first book, and to an even greater extent with this one, is the superb characterisation of London itself and how Bilal depicts the essential energy and feel of this teeming metropolis. Having so perfectly captured the chasm between rich and poor in The Divinities, some of this book sees Drake moving about the homeless community in pursuit of an individual crucial to their enquiries. These scenes are written with a real attention to the plight of this community, highlighting how easy it is to fall between the cracks, and what kind of existence this leads to. Likewise, with the story spiralling back to the nefarious deeds of an international crime network involved in drug and people trafficking, and drawing on the particular backgrounds of Drake and Crane themselves, there is a strong multi-cultural feel to the book too. In the scenes relating to Drake’s previous undercover case with the police, Bilal brings a strong thread of realism to the story of his involvement with a witness, Zelda, and her subsequent death, as she sought a better life in Britain only for it to go so desperately awry. I felt a huge amount of sympathy both for her, and for the complex moral dilemma this put Drake through, torn between his duty as a police officer, but also his indebtedness to and dangerous coercion of her to speak out.

Although The Heights makes for, at times, bleak and uncomfortable reading, I was utterly mesmerised by it throughout. Bilal maintains a real energy and pace to the book, and with the story comprising of a number of different strands, there is certainly no opportunity for the reader’s attention to wander. I liked the way that these strands wove in and out with each other, keeping a real control to the narrative arc, and making some interesting connections along the way, and even more excitingly some unresolved issues that may bode well for a further addition to the series. The characters of Drake and Crane themselves, serve as an effective anchor to the book, and through their differences in personality, but an uncanny knack to actually work rather well together, all in all Bilal has hit on a winning combination I feel. Packed with tension and with an adroit rendition of London itself, highlighting the gap between rich and poor, the exploited and the exploiters, this was an immersive and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black Thorn Press for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites

#BlogTour- Imran Mahmood- You Don’t Know Me

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.

He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.

There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions, but at the end of the speeches, only one matters…

Penned by criminal defence barrister Imran Mahmood, You Don’t Know Me, provides a refreshingly different take on the legal thriller genre, challenging the reader, and manipulating our empathy throughout as we listen to the voice of one young man on trial for murder.

The use of the first person narration throughout will admittedly be not to everyone’s taste, as some readers have a real aversion to this narrative structure. However, as the book is structured as a young man giving his own testimony, seeking to win over judge and jury alike, I rather liked the intensely personal nature of this device, and the fact that this leads you to be totally engaged with the unnamed defendant’s lengthy closing statement. By not naming the young man directly, and having every experience of his filtered through his own particular viewpoint, cleverly we actually see more the manipulation of others, the inherent stupidity of his actions and his misguided loyalty through his own damning testimony. The first person narrative, however, is not without problems as sustaining this over 370 pages, leads to a wavering between erudition and rambling, so there were some periods where my attention did falter, unlike in slimmer novels that use the same narrative technique.

Sometimes in order to prove the intelligence and self awareness of the unnamed defendant his language seemed to diversify at times from the street smart vernacular that was more in evidence at the start of the book to a heightened sensibility of his predicament that seemed slightly at odds with the initial perception we have of him as a character. However, I fully appreciate the fact that if the narrative was crammed with repetitive vernacular the lengthy page count would have been inherently more irritating. So, for the most part the sheer conviction and determination of his testimony kept me engaged, as I was drawn into the violent miasma of his day to day life and experiences.

Although, we only experience other characters in the book through this one person testimony, the characterisation throughout shone with clarity. His cohorts of Curt and Ki added a richness and texture to the story, and between them brought out the strengths and fatal weaknesses of our narrator, as they became inextricably bound together as they strive to overcome what seems like a hopeless fait accompli. There is also an unremitting and authentic portrayal of their desire to extricate themselves from their shared experiences in the deprived area they inhabit, and the level of loyalty they display to each other, though clearly being subject to the manipulation and malevolence of others throughout.

To be fair, I admired this interesting and fairly audacious debut in the fact that Mahmood takes a risk with the narrative and structure. I thought that for the most part it gave a realistic portrayal of the lives of its characters, although for me personally the jury is still out so to speak on the final revelation of our narrator’s testimony, but still worth a recommendation for the bravery of its intention.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites: