This is a brilliant novel, perhaps one of the best crime thrillers I have ever read. Seriously. Read this book. Googling it afterwards, I found that this is the author's debut, e.g. his first published novel. I also found that it has met with rave reviews and been compared to The Wire, Luther, and other popular fictional crime fiction shows. My own verdict? All that and more.
Streets of Darkness follows Inspector Harry Virdee, a detective of Sikh origin on the Bradford force. The novel starts off with Virdee on suspension. He has a temper and assaulted someone who insulted his wife. This forms part of the backstory to the character, for Harry is married to Saima, a British Muslim. Her family disapproved of her marrying a Sikh, while his family was equally against him marrying a Muslim. Both have been disowned from their families and suffered violent repercussions for their love match.
While out running, Harry happens upon the body of one of Bradford's most prominent sons, a businessman who recently won a seat representing Bradford in Parliament. He's been crucified and a Swastika has been etched into his body. All signs point to far right involvement and with the Bradford race riots of 2011 still fresh in everyone's memory this is obviously an incredibly sensitive investigation. Harry's boss asks him to investigate off the books and this leads to him uncovering a sinister plot involving drugs, possible police corruption, racism.
I don't want to give too much away, but the author juggles all these different strands with aplomb. The plot is tight, the characters compelling and three dimensional. Often people say that a sense of place is important to a crime novel. All too often this is taken literally and authors spend copious amounts of time describing locations. Streets of Darkness gives you a feel for Bradford but in a much more nuanced way than the usual travelogue. Instead the author paints a vivid psycho-political portrait of a city with deep schisms. Again, to hark back to that analogy with The Wire, I felt the author did for Bradford what David Simon did for Baltimore: here is a city in terminal decline, riven by de-industrialisation, poverty and social exclusion.
If you haven't already gathered I absolutely loved this book. And what is more, I have since learnt about the author, A. A. Dhand. He's a pharmacist by trade. Bradford born and raised, he says he's spent his life observing the city from behind his shop counter. All I can say is what an eye he must have. In an interview he also says that this book was ten years in the writing (from conception to publication) and he speaks about the challenges of breaking through to the mainstream. As an aspiring crime novelist myself, I find him an inspiration. I just hope that my own efforts can come near to matching his. Needless to say I can't wait to read the sequel to Streets of Darkness, if it's half as good as his debut it'll be a fantastic read.
5 out of 5 stars