Barbara Nadel (left) has created one of the more adventurous pairings in recent private eye fiction. The pair return for another episode set in the modern East End of London. Lee Arnold is a former soldier and policeman but now he is the proprietor of an investigation agency, partnered by a young Anglo Bengali widow, Mumtaz Hakim. Abbas al’Barri was an interpreter back in the first Gulf War, where he became close friends with Arnold. He escaped from Iraq with his family, and settled in London, but now he has a huge problem for which he requires the services of Arnold and Hakim. Fayyad – Abbas’s son – has become radicalised and gone to wage jihad in Syria. After receiving a mysterious package containing a significant religious artifact, Abbas and his wife are convinced that it represents a cry for help from Fayyad who, they believe, is desperate to return home.
Like all his fellow crusaders for The Caliphate, Fayyad has cast off his familial name and now has an identity more fitting, in his eyes, for someone wielding the sword of Islamic justice against the kaffir. Abu Imad also knows his way about the internet and he has established a very distinctive social media profile. On the basis of this, Arnold and Hakim hatch a scheme to lure the young jihadi to Amsterdam where they can discover if his parents’ belief in his change of heart is justified, or simply wishful thinking.
Their plan, it must be said, is fraught with danger and is almost bound to go pear-shaped, but within the confines of crime fiction thrillers, makes for a nail-biting narrative. What could possibly go wrong with Hakim befriending Abu Imad on Facebook and pretending to be a starstruck Muslim lass called Mishal who would like nothing better than to travel out to Syria to be at her hero’s side? Facebook leads to Skype, and with the help of make-up and a head covering, ‘Mishal’ arranges to travel to Amsterdam, complete with Abu Imad’s shopping list from Harrods. As you might expect, everything then goes wrong, in bloody and spectacular fashion.
Nadel, cleverly, has two plotlines operating in tandem, quite different but subtly linked. We have a standard police procedural centred on the murder of a flamboyant Hindu shopkeeper, Rajiv Banergee, who has been openly gay for a long time. This exposes the flaws and fault lines within Islamic society in regard to its attitude towards homosexuality but also keeps us grounded on familiar territory, fiction-wise. The second plot, of course, is the attempt to ‘rescue’ Fayyad al’Barri. This narrative is laden with tension. We soon realise that Arnold and Hakim are in way over their heads, and we can only hope that the pair escape with their lives from a maelstrom of terrorism, counter terrorism and industrial-strength deception
Nadel gives us an unflinching portrait of the social stresses and strains of the Bengali community in and around its Brick Lane heartland. She pulls no punches when describing how the position and treatment of women by many Bengali men is so often at odds with what could be called modern British and, indeed, Western European values.
The novel never becomes mere polemic, but Nadel does address one of the apparent conundrums of Islam, and that is how a so called religion of peace can allow the atrocities carried out by ISIS and other jihadis. Her answer is not the complete solution, but she neatly points out that most of the carnage is carried out by relatively young people, much to the shock and shame of their parents and, in turn, she poses the question, “Since when, in any society, have young people ever listened to their elders?”
Mumtaz Hakim has a considerable back-story which will be familiar to those who have read previous books in the series. For newcomers, the grim events are described with a deft touch which tells the reader everything they need to know, while enabling that part of the plot to simmer away nicely in the background. This is a gripping read which will entertain and cause nails to bitten to the quick. It also raises some significant questions about British society. Bright Shiny Things is available now in all formats.