Review: Stav Sherez – Eleven Days

11 daysThe problem with an iconic city like London is that everyone’s view of the place is different. It makes it difficult to capture the city’s essence in a book, and crime novels have had mixed success in bringing the diverse city to life. Stav Sherez’s previous book, A Dark Redemption, expertly depicted the underbelly of London’s immigrant community and showed a side of the city that I thought authentic and under-exposed. It had a brutal feel to it, and this continues in Eleven Days as he turns his attention to the Catholic church and its secrets.

Eleven days before Christmas, a convent in West London is consumed by a fire. Ten religious sisters are found burned to death but the presence of an eleventh body has the team, led by DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller, searching for the victim’s identity. The convent was known for its outreach work but when Carrigan and Miller try to access church records to see where funds have been allocated, they meet evasion and disinterest. Assistant Chief Constable Quinn leans on the team to go gently when interviewing church officials but, as the police get nearer to the truth, both Carrigan and Miller are subjected to violent assaults.

Reading about murder and intrigue in a religious context is right up my street. It’s got to be cleverly done, because books revolving around the secrecy of the Catholic Church are hardly new. But in Eleven Days the murder of ten, possibly eleven, nuns is presented as a great catastrophe, the roots of which can only be through secrecy on a grand scale. In the book we get glimpses of the politics of liberation theology, the trafficking of young girls and the politicking that takes place within the police force.

Carrigan and Miller are both interesting police characters: Carrigan is still mourning the loss of his wife while Miller has a manipulative ex-husband withholding money from her. There clearly is a mutual attraction between the two detectives which, for the moment, isn’t being realised. It’s good that both take an equally active role in the investigation, rather than the female merely being relegated to side-kick. I’m slightly alarmed at the amount of beatings they both take though

The conclusion to the book is a surprise, and breaks one of Ronald Knox’s ten rules of crime fiction. I’m not telling which – you’ll have to read the book – and if you don’t want any hint of a spoiler don’t click on the link to the rules. By combining an interesting police procedural with elements of religious conspiracy and gang violence, Sherez has written an unusual crime novel that I enjoyed reading.

Thanks to Faber for my copy of the book which is out on the 2nd May. The author’s website can be found here.