#Review #StreetsOfDarkness & #GirlZero by @aadhand and Q&A @penguinrandom

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Streets Of Darkness By A.A Dhand

Luther meets The Wire, this is the first Detective Harry Virdee novel

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body.

Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away.

Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

My review:

I have had this novel in my sights and on my kindle for quite some time. When I was unable to attend Harrogate this year my blogger friend Sarah (ByTheletterbookreviews) got me a signed copy! Which I was super grateful to receive! However, it wasn’t until I started to read it I would become aware of exactly how grateful I was!

The novel opens in Bradford, the darkness of the city and the troubled times it has been through is fully explored. If you didn’t know Bradford’s dark past before reading, you certainly will afterwards. I myself hail from the t’north of England, from Burnley to be precise. Yet there were things I learned within the novel that I had not previously known. This literally is northern crime fiction at its finest!

DI Harry Virdee is the protagonist, suspended from work and facing an IPCC investigation. He is a broken man seeking to restore his reputation and some form of redemption. His wife Saima is pregnant with their first child and their relationship is extremely complex. Harry being from a traditionally Sikh background, although he follows no faith now. Saima being from a traditionally Muslim background and a believer in Islam herself. Their families have disowned them, considering their union as impure. They must start their family with virtually no support, Harry’s brother Ronnie being the only family member still willing to talk to the young couple. I instantly warmed to Harry and saima and found their relationship to be one of exceptional depth and the themes of religion fascinating.

Harry leaves in the early hours, for a jog in Lister park. The park is soon to be hosting an Asian Mela, a three-day cultural event and this with Eid approaching. Only this day proves to be anything but holy, when Harry stumbles across a dead body in the park…. The dead body isn’t just any man, it is Shakeel Ahmed a successful businessman and newly elected MP. Shakeel has been crucified, with a swastika carved into the middle of his chest and the words “Christ died for our sins; he died for this”.
With Shakeel being a known devout Muslim it is safe to assume this murder is a hate crime.

Detective superintendent George Simpson (Harry’s boss pre-suspension) head of the (HMET) homicide and major enquiry team, asks Harry for a favour. He asks Harry to track down Lucas Dwight, his blood having been found at Shakeel property. Lucas has recently been released from prison and was previously the leader of the BNP for Bradford. He is an addict, a fascist and has just been released after a 14yr stretch inside. He is the prime suspect. George warns Harry that if Lucas isn’t located soon. It could have a political backlash and the reoccurrence of the race riots of 1995 and 2001.

In the background to this, a local man named Colin Reed sets to use the murder to his advantage by ordering Martin Davis (current leader of the BNP) to plan a riot to coincide with the Asian Mela. But who is Colin Reed and what is his agenda? Also what benefit does it set for Martin Davis to see Bradford set alight? Bashir Iqbal also becomes liberated with the death of Shakeel. As he is freed from a promise he made to Shakeel, when he was alive. A promise that has links to a wrong from the past. Bashir wants his vengeance and has waited 40yrs for this day. I instantly feared Bashir and found his whole demeanour, of one of an angry, riled man. But I was desperate to know the secret from his past and what drove him this way.

Harry instantly seeks out his brother Ronnie. Ronnie being no stranger to prison himself, has previously served 5yrs in jail. He warns Harry to leave it alone and we also become aware Harry is not allowed any contact with his niece of nephews. The theme of family and honour is interwoven brilliantly throughout the novel. Harry’s shunning from his community and the role of redemption on the human conscience.

Harry finally locates Lucas Dwight, after some classic old fashioned detective work. It is this moment that the novel explodes from the page!!!!!!!!!!
Lucas is not the man, Harry was led to believe. Lucas warns Harry he is being ‘fitted up’ and there are bigger things brewing in Bradford. Harry is unsure what to believe, but upon learning that Lucas has now converted to Islam. Harry starts to wonder if Lucas is on to something. Lucas and Harry now become the unlikely duo, set to solve this mystery and prevent Bradford escalating into chaotic violence……….

This novel has themes of corruption, politics, racial tension, Bradford villians, grudges, BNP politics, dirty cops, revenge and redemption. All rolled into one hell of a read! It is most definitely one not to be missed.
5* Genius

*This Q&A was written after I read/reviewed #StreetsOfDarkness but before I had read/reviewed #GirlZero, for clarification.

Q) For the readers, can you give a summary of yourself and your Harry Virdee series?

A) I’ve been writing since 2006 and had many rejections and setbacks before being signed with Transworld in 2014. I wrote 1.2 million words before finally creating the right mix of characters, story and drama with Streets of Darkness. I wanted a character who may be Asian but is fiercely British, patriotic and a force to be reckoned with as there were no characters like Harry and Saima Virdee in crime-fiction.

        My journey to becoming a writer started in my parent’s corner-shop in Bradford. As a twelve-year old, I would sneakily watch the certificate 18 thrillers. One evening I selected “The Silence of the Lambs” and it was the only movie I could not finish. I was too scared! But that weekend, on my usual weekly visit to Bradford Library, I saw the novel by Thomas Harris and had never realised movies could be adapted from books. I borrowed the book and whereas I could not finish the movie, I did finish the book and my love-affair with crime-fiction was born! I simply could not a believe a novel could take me to such extremes of emotion and yet, keep me turning the page! I wanted to do that…

Q) After finishing this novel, which left me on quite the cliff edge! My first thoughts were of disbelief that this is a debut novel!!! I know the journey to publication can be extremely difficult for novels of a diverse nature. What was your experience of the path to publication?

A) I studied pharmacy at university but my love was for writing. In 2004 I started writing my first novel and finished it in 2006. It was a real mess! I spent 2 years editing it and trying to make it coherent and in 2008 signed with a literary agent. I worked hard on the manuscript but it simply wasn’t good enough. In 2011 I took a break from writing and came back to it in 2013 and wrote another book called “Field of Blood”. It was rejected by my agency so I left to find another agent. At the same time, I won a writing competition called “Crimeandpublishment” run by Graham Smith – a renowned book reviewer. Off the back of that, I signed with Simon Trewin at WME agency. Buoyed at securing a new agent, I returned to my first novel and re-wrote it in six weeks. That novel became Streets of Darkness and was sold to Transworld in an exclusive deal.

Q) The novel has many themes, the cultural aspects between Harry and Saima. What was the inspiration behind this?

A) I had read many non-fiction stories about inter-faith drama and racism within Asian communities and always felt disheartened and depressed after reading them. I wanted to explore this theme but in a manner which whilst emotionally engaging, also made the reader root for Harry and Saima and never look on them with pity. They are fierce, loyal and determined to win this battle of cultures and it also allows me to take readers in a world they are unfamiliar with.

Q) The characters are so very cleverly written, I actually found I warmed to Lucas Dwight and his predicament. The characters were constantly evolving throughout the novel. Did you plan this, or did they evolve as you wrote the plot?

A) I planned it! Nobody is “all good” or “all bad”. Life doesn’t work that way. Even the vilest human beings have had relationships, experienced love, loss, highs and lows. So, to take a character and create apathy and understanding and subvert reader’s expectations is very much an active process and I do with both Lucas and Bashir. It makes them three-dimensional.

Q) One of the themes, I love in a novel, is the theme of personal redemption. It is in one of my favourite of all time Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. What was your inspiration behind this theme?

A) I think a lot of life is about redemption both positive and negative. Also, it layers the characters, their motivations and gives them a real driving force. Attaining “justice” whether legally or illegally is a fascinating topic.

Q) The character of Bashir, starts off with a shocking scene and he is overall quite menacing and scary. But then when I got to the end, I had one of them moments where I totally ‘got it’. I don’t want to create spoilers, but have to ask, was that always planned from the beginning?

A) Yes, it was planned. There is nothing greater I find than writing menacing, frightening character and then right at the end, twisting their tale and subverting the readers previous POV. I love that! For me, Hannibal Lecter is the best example. So dangerous, so terrifying, yet his relationship and obsession with Clarice give us a complexity to his character which conflicts with our earlier total disdain.

Q) The ending was intense, left the novel right open and literally rolls right into #2 Girl Zero. This was expertly crafted! I read the introduction to Girl Zero and now face the agonising wait to get my copy. Do you yourself enjoy a dramatic ending in a novel? And what are your favourite novel endings?

A) My favourite novels and ending are:

“Before I go to Sleep” by SJ Watson – quite simply, the greatest debut I have ever read with the mother of all twists. I will never forget that twist – truly amazing.

“The Collector” by Robert Fowles. A classic with an ending which never leaves you and a truly incredible plot.

“The Surgeon” by Tess Gerritsen. The queen of crime-fiction and this book frightened and thrilled me in equal measure and for me, Tess is the greatest crime-writer of the modern era – her plots are meticulous and I have NEVER figured out her twists ahead of time. My all-time favourite author.

Q) finally, will there be a #3 in the DI Harry Virdee series? Are we allowed any snippets of information?

A) Give me a breather! Haha. Yes there will be a third book. A book which brings all the threads of the first two together. Snippets of information? Hmmm…

#teamHarry or #teamRonnie

There can only be one…can’t there?

*Huge thanks to the author A.A Dhand for taking part in a Q&A on my blog. I wish you every success with you writing career. 🙂

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Girl Zero by A.A Dhand

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent.

My review:

After being absolutely blown away by The Streets Of Darkness, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next novel in the series. I managed to order a signed copy via Goldsboro books! (Love Goldsboro books). The first in the series ended in a dramatic climax and I was looking forward to how Harry vs Ronnie would play out as the series develops.
I was not going to be let down……

Detective Inspector Hardeep ‘Harry’ Virdee is awoken at 03:50am and summoned to a murder scene. Upon arriving at Wapping school, he discovers this young female victim has been fatally stabbed. When he examines the body closer he recognises the gold bangle on her left wrist, a kara bangle, a sign of Sikhism. But when he gets a closer look at the victims face, he discovers it is his niece Tara. With her father, Harry’s brother Ronnie being Bradford’s most powerful criminal and the head of a drug cartel. This is going to get very real and very dangerous quickly. Knowing Ronnie will rush to take justice, into his own hands Harry must solve the case fast!

Harry hasn’t spoken to his parents, since they disowned him for marrying outside of his culture. They believe his wife Saima a Muslim, to be the devil herself and stubbornly refuse to have anything to do with them or their new baby Aaron. Now Harry must break the news to the family, whom hate him! He arrives at the family home, as they celebrate Diwali. He is greeted by his mother Joyti and sister in law Mundeep with utter contempt. But it is Harry’s father, who falsely blames Harry for the death. Which makes for quite painful reading, to see his rejection so openly on the pages…………..
“If I had known I would have to suffer seeing your face, in this house, on this day, I would have wished my own death”

On the other side of Bradford local criminals Ali Kamran, Billy Musa and Riz Khan are operating a trafficking network. Selling young girls to the highest bidder. Ali suffers from vitiligo and is considered a curse in the Asian community. He recalls in his thoughts, his mother mocking and ridiculing his condition and her shame and misfortune at bearing such a son. Ali stalks Harry’s house and it is at this point the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Will he hurt Saima? Or Aaron? Who is really in-charge of the trafficking ring? Who is the boss? Is it Ronnie?

Harry discovers that Tara has recently moved out of her parent’s house and rejected their culture also. This explains why the family hold Harry responsible. But why did Tara reject her culture? Harry searches her house and comes to a few conclusions. Either it is her connection to her father, a crime of passion or Tara is not as innocent as everyone thinks? It becomes clear that Harry has met secretly with Tara in the 4 years that they have been estranged but not recently. Harry recalls being the first one to hold her in her first 20 minutes of life. He also recalls what things were like at home, before he was disowned. As a reader you long for harry to be reunited with his family, but you also know, it is highly unlikely. In the search of Tara’s, Harry discovers a diary with some sketchy information. With added pressure from Ronnie for updates, Harry really has his work cut out for him.
Then Harry receives a call, a call that will blow the case wide open…………

This novel covers the murder of Harry’s niece and how that plays into a local trafficking ring. It has themes of revenge and honour. But also of family shame and the crosses we bear for those we love. It also accurately explains how trafficking rings, operate under the secrecy demanded by powerful individuals. As crime reads go, this series is gearing up to be one of my favourite.
The mix of crime and culture, makes for an intriguing, yet educating read! 5*

A.A Dhand
Authors links:
Web site: https://www.aadhand.com/
Twitter @aadhand

*Signed copies still available at Goldsboro books here: https://www.goldsborobooks.com/author/a-a-dhand