Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.
It is not Dhand’s fault but the timing of the release of this Bradford-set novel was downright creepy. Its June 16 publication date came one day before the appalling murder in Leeds of newly elected Yorkshire MP Jo Cox.
Streets of Darkness begins with the murder in Bradford of newly elected West Yorkshire MP Shakeel Ahmed. There are racial overtones but that is where the parallels with immediate reality ends.
The crime in the novel is particularly nasty, damaged-Swedish detective level nasty. It features Crucifixion as well as much blood, and oodles of gore. It is an arresting beginning to a debut novel that introduces us to damaged Sikh Bradford-native detective Hardeep (Harry) Videe. Himself a Sikh, he is married to a Muslim woman who is just days away from giving birth to their first child.
The book is arresting throughout. With big personas, horrific events and lots of comment on those terrifying events and the deep dark secrets they are linked to.
The first two are fine, creating theatrical collisions, blood-spattered set pieces and rapidly paced sequences of events. The third (the social commentary aspect) gets a bit grating - a Greek chorus that simply doesn’t know when to keep schtumm. Phrases like “this is about making right what you did!” or “the death he’d been planning for years” crop up often, too often for a reader who doesn’t like to be lectured at, or given signposts - dripped in large red lettering.
The story itself is a whopper and one that could’ve only played out in Bradford. It is all there – the cultural clashes, the endemic poverty, the drugs, the industrial history and its clash with the current downturn. I am sure other cities in the UK and elsewhere in Europe suffer the same ills, but I know Bradford well and Dhand, a native, has captured much of Leeds’s plainer stepsister beautifully. I could smell the onion Bhajis, I could see the boarded-up once lovely buildings.
Against the backdrop of Eid coinciding with Karva Chauth and a Mela in the town centre, the plot also features a cacophonous soundtrack – Bollywood tunes, gunfire and the screams of ambulances. Likewise, Dhand’s characters often defy expectations, jumping from the page as more than cookie-cutter police chiefs, hate-spewing racist thugs, or gentle Sikh elders.
Harry is on an imposed break from the police and investigates Ahmed’s death unofficially as he knows there are links with his own brother Ronnie. He also tracks down a recently released prisoner, a racist yobbo called Lucas Dwight.
None of these encounters involves a quiet pint and a chicken tikka masala supper. No these are tense, murderous events. Harry finds himself running all over Bradford tracking down criminals of the BNP, and villains with a respectable veneer. The time frame is short and the tension does not abate.
The denouement was a whopper, as well. Sadly I found it got bogged down in talk. I’ve never been that close to death or dismemberment (and hope never to do!). But I doubt long speeches about the reasons for the bitterness would be part of that kind of a stand-off - I’d be racing, not talking.
I closed the book rooting for Harry and his intelligent bride Saima. I look forward to the next instalment in this unusual series. And I also hope the editing of book number two will involve some dialling-down. The story is interesting and the characters compelling enough for us not to need as much telling of the drama or spelling out of motives as Streets provides.