Barbara Nadel – Enough Rope

Post by Enough-Rope-e1438263269855Crimepieces guest reviewer, Rachel Hall.

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!

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Review: R N Morris – The Mannequin House

The MHAfter finishing the excellent Summon up the Blood, I was looking forward to the next outing of RN Morris’s detective, Silas Quinn. The books are set in 1914 London, a period of prosperity for the city which is reflected in the rise of large department stores providing wares to the middle and upper classes.

In The Mannequin House, Quinn from the Special Crimes Department is called to investigate the death of a young woman who is employed at the House of Blackley department store as a clothes model. The dead girl, Amélie, lived in a house with the other models employed at the shop and Quinn becomes suspicious of the relationship existing between the girls and the store’s charismatic owner, Benjamin Blackley. The prime suspect, however, according to local police is a small monkey wearing a fez hat who was found in the dead girl’s room. Only by digging deeper are Silas and his team able to strip away the glitter and superficial gloss of the department store and the discover true nature of its egotistical owner.

Although I’m new to Morris’s books, I find them enjoyable reads with good sense of place. Whereas in Summon up the Blood, we were treated to descriptions of the seedy side of Piccadilly with rent boys selling their bodies for pennies, in this latest book we are see the greed and exploitation that takes place around commerce in the city. The visitors to Blackley’s are portrayed as both gullible and vulnerable to the trends and caprices of the other shoppers and there is a horrific scene involving a stampede that takes place when they think a fire has broken out.

The murder of Amélie is investigated in Quinn’s usual nonconformist manner although we get to see more of the detective’s human side in this book. He is an interesting mix of bravado and uncertainty and there are hints of trauma in his past. There is a fairly small list of suspects for the actual crime and it isn’t too difficult to guess who the culprit is, although there is a nice twist in the end. I’m looking forward to reading more about Silas Quinn and his team in the future.

The Mannequin House is published on the 27th December by Crème De La Crime. I received a review copy from the publishers.

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This post is dedicated to Maxine Clarke, who blogged at Petrona, who died yesterday. Maxine commented on the first ever post on thisSnowdrop-2 blog and continued to do so on a regular basis. She also became a friend. Her insightful comments, helpful support and generosity in passing on books will be greatly missed by me and all her friends in the crime fiction world. There are some excellent tributes being posted by crime fiction bloggers including Margot Kinberg, Rhian Davies, Mrs Peabody, Mysteries in Paradise, Crimescraps and Aly Monroe. Tributes are being collated by Margot here. I’d just like to add that blogging won’t be the same without you Maxine.

Review: R N Morris – Summon up the Blood

One of the great things about living in central London is that books set in the city usually refer to streets and landmarks that are instantly familiar. Nicola Upson’s fictional policeman Archie Penrose lives on the same road as me and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London opens with a murder in my local churchyard. My latest read, Summon up the Blood by R N Morris is set around London’s West End, incorporating landmarks which will be instantly recognisable to most Londoners.

Set in 1914, the book opens with the murder of Jimmy, young male prostitute, by a clearly well-to-do killer. Responsibility for investigating the murder is given to Detective Inspector Silas Quinn of the Special Crimes Department who is plunged into the shadowy world of rent boys and the paying customers who prey on the poverty of those prepared to sell their bodies for money. As more young men are killed, Quinn and his team follow a trail of blood and vice which leads them to an exclusive gentlemen’s club in the heart of the West End.

This is the first book that I’ve read by R N Morris and I was particularly impressed by the cast of characters he created. Silas Quinn, we are told, has a history of violence towards suspects in his previous cases, but he doesn’t have the lack of complexity that we might associate with this type of policeman. Instead, he is confused and disturbed by the explicit images he finds in gay literature and possibly to counteract this, he alternately attracts and repels the amorous Miss Dillard, a fellow lodger in his boarding house. There is a moving scene when he recognises the slightly absurd Miss Dillard as a vulnerable human being like himself.  Other characters are also given substance, including the outspoken Detective Sergeant Inchball and his colleague DS Macadam whose pride and joy is the 1912 Ford Model T police car which he is allowed to drive.

I thought the book was forthright in its depiction of male prostitution and also recognised that in the hedonistic London lifestyle it was sometimes difficult to distinguish who was exploiting whom. The book also gave wonderfully evocative descriptions of London venues at that time, many of which are still going, including the Criterion bar/restaurant which was a meeting place for the gay community.

Although the book was set in 1914, it had a Victorian feel to it, despite the presence of  the model T Ford and other Edwardian inventions, which I liked. The blurb at the back of the book quoted the ‘turbulent months leading up to World War I’ which I thought was slightly misleading as there wasn’t a pre-war feel to the book. It was also possibly not the author’s intention as I thought the book cleverly created the atmosphere of a post-Victorian hangover.

Summon up the Blood was a very enjoyable read and I believe there is second book featuring Silas Quinn coming soon – I’m looking forward to it.

I borrowed this book from the library. The author’s website is here.

Review: Nicola Upson – Two for Sorrow

I like historical mysteries but don’t read enough of them. After enjoying Aly Monroe’s Icelight I was determined to read more of the genre. Nicola Upson’s Two for Sorrow is the third book in a series which has as its protagonist the writer Josphine Tey. I was initially sceptical about having a well known crime novelist as a character in a book. It could err on pastiche but I was pleasantly surprised by this well-written and cleverly plotted crime story and am looking forward to reading more in the series.

In its setting, the book contrasts the drab hospitals and prisons in the first part of the twentieth century with the glamour of West End theatreland. When writer Jospehine Tey visits London from her Inverness home, she stays at the Cowdray Club, a women’s institution associated with the adjacent teaching hospital for nurses. Josephine has begun a new book focusing on the story of the notorious Finchley ‘baby farmers’, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, who were hanged for their crimes in 1903. Celia Bannerman, who is involved in the management of the Cowdray Club, was a prison nurse at the time of the execution and Josephine hopes to get an insight into the conditions of Holloway prison to add authenticity to her manuscript. When Marjorie Baker, a young former inmate of the prison, is found cruelly killed in the run-up to a gala ball, police believe Marjorie may have discovered a secret the killer is desperate to remain concealed.

Although Josephine Tey has an important role in the developing narrative, I felt that Archie Penrose, Josephine’s old friend and police detective, was the pivotal character in the actual crime investigation. The story of the two baby killers is a fascinating one and although I often don’t like reading a novel within a novel, here I thought it worked very well indeed. In the extracts from Josephine’s manuscript, we get an insight into the state of Holloway prison at the beginning of the twentieth century and the horror of women’s executions that would take another sixty years to abolish. Cleverly, the author doesn’t have Josephine do much investigating – she’s no Miss Marple, instead she continues her research and writing which does eventually contribute to the police finding a solution to the case. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Josephine’s love life which is based on real correspondence.

1930s London comes alive in this book, especially the areas around the West End and Covent Garden. The details given of the women’s clubs and theatre gatherings I found fascinating but it didn’t read like a period piece but a crime novel with a fresh engaging story. I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.

Thanks to Chris Simmons from crimesquad for giving me a copy of this book. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime,

Review: Max Kinnings – Baptism

Given the masses of people that use London’s underground every day, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more crime novels set on the tube. Although Baptism by Max Kinnings opens with the murder of a monk in Snowdonia, most if the action is centred around the hijacking of a London underground train and the attempts by a negotiator to secure the hostages’ freedom. For those of us who use the tube, of course, this is your worst nightmare and the author cleverly plays on all your fears in this fast-paced book.

George, a train driver on the underground, begins his morning with a familiar routine; waking up his young family and kissing his wife goodbye. However, he receives a phone call that reveals his wife and children are being held hostage and is given instructions to proceed to work as usual and follow the captor’s instructions. The day descends into nightmare as the kidnapper enters his cab and instructs him to halt the train between stations. In the sweltering summer’s day, the passengers don’t initially realise the gravity of the situation.

When two armed policeman sent down on a reconnaissance mission are killed Ed Mallory, an experienced hostage negotiator, is tasked with talking to the hijackers led by a religious fanatic and former soldier. When George leaves the telephone line open, the negotiating team realise that the kidnappers intend to use water to add a terrifying dimension to this already horrifying situation.

The book had a strong opening and I was interested to see how the narrative would develop. Kinnings has created two good protagonists – George the family man who never intended to become a train driver, and Ed, the blind hostage negotiator. I liked the back story to George, a failed poet and muscian who has never had the courage to follow his dreams. Ed also was given an interesting background – and I can belive that a blind negotiator could use his intuition effectivey in these kinds of situations. For me, the violence was slightly too strong and not for the faint hearted but it did fit in with the dynamic narrative and brutal situation.

I can’t see many people wanting to read this on the tube, but other than that I think it makes a fast moving and enjoyable read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime and Crime Fiction Lover. The author’s website is here.