Barbara Nadel is familiar to many readers as the author of the well-regarded Inspector Ikmen series set in Istanbul, however my first encounter with her work comes with the fourth outing of the London based Hakim and Arnold series. Set in the East End, the series revolves around a small private detective agency run by white ex-policeman Lee Arnold and his assistant, young Muslim widow Mumtaz Hakim. Barbara Nadel has pulled off something quite special in Mrs Mumtaz Hakim. Mumtaz adds a layer of realism which offers a fresh perspective on an area which has seen vast changes over recent years and is largely unrecognisable to half a century ago.
With a significant Bangladeshi community making up a large part of the population around Brick Lane and the East End, Mumtaz has a solid support network established in the area. Well educated with a degree in psychology she is a strong independent woman working in an occupation still predominantly seen as the preserve of white males. As a step-mother to sixteen year old Shazia she has plenty of her own problems, burdened by the debts left by husband Ahmet to Naz Sheikh and his family and with their threats increasing being levelled at Shazia, not to mention brother Asif.
Whilst Lee hails from the Forest Gate area and as a divorced, ex-cop, ex-army private investigator could be seen as largely ‘old school’, he is clearly no dinosaur and is insightful enough to know that to make inroads in a community where the demographic is rapidly changing he needs support. The established crime families of the East End no longer reign and with a growing community of Muslims and a shift towards the upwardly mobile university elite, a more diverse community are bringing a wider range of crimes and corruption to his attention.
When Superintendent Paul Venus’ son, Harry, is kidnapped and a ransom demanded from an address in Brick Lane it is not just his boy he wants back; he also wants to know who is behind the sting and employs Arnold in an attempt to achieve a discreet resolution. Although by no means friends the pair and well aware of each other and with ex-colleagues still working under the authority of Venus, Lee has heard all the rumours of corruption and backhanders coming from on-off hook-up DS Violet Collins. Yet the ransom demand address of Brick Lane cannot be dismissed outright and when Mumtaz uncovers a connection which points to a powerful Bangladeshi family things no longer seem so straightforward. With Lee being sworn to secrecy about the case he has to tread very carefully and rely on the mutual trust which the pair have fostered. Arnold has no contacts in the Muslim community, whereas Mumtaz has a family home and not only relatives but friends and connections to the community.
What Enough Rope lacked in frenetic action it more than made up for with its striking portrayal of life for the residents of a diverse East End and still delivered plenty of twists to keep me focused. Admittedly one outcome did strike me as rather contrived and a little left of centre but on the upside there was much to applaud. The supporting characters all have real depth, most noticeably Shazia, Vi Collins and father Baharat and I would be interested in seeing more of them. Well paced and a lively sense of humour in evidence throughout from both the old and new residents which I particularly liked. With Lee showing an increasing attraction to Mumtaz there may be a relationship on the cards but the bond between the pair seems genuine and adds a real plausibility which ensures that the series never feels like tokenism.
Originally hailing from the East End there is no doubt that Nadel is familiar with the cultures and communities who occupy the area. Gentrification and growing inequality fosters ill feeling, not just between the ‘haves and have nots’ but also between minority groups. The achievement which sets Enough Rope apart is in presenting individuals and a cross section of each ethnic group, not just depicting stereotypes. Most notably within Mumtaz’s family as brother Asif is increasing drawn to radicalisation it is her elderly father, Baharat, whose tolerance creates the lasting memory.
There was a sense of vibrancy throughout the novel and in the same way that Anya Lipska has brought the Polish community around Stratford alive, Barbara Nadel is doing a brilliant job for the Bangladeshi community of Brick Lane. I make no apologies for my new found enthusiasm for this series and if you enjoy a solid crime read with a little more of social context then this series is a very decent bet!