Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
On the eve of the Islamic festival of Eid Bradford elects its first Muslim MP, a millionaire businessman and philanthropist, one who has the power to keep the lid on racial tensions. The city has been quiet since the riots of 2001; even the British National Party has kept a low profile, but with Eid approaching the police are uneasy, watching for a spark that could ignite a conflagration.
Enter, Harry Virdee Detective Inspector, six foot three, 90 kilos of brawn with a volatile temper. Raised a Sikh, currently on suspension for beating a criminal, Harry is unconcerned about tension as he takes his morning run in the suburbs. And then he comes on the body of a man, naked and crucified, with a swastika carved on his chest.
When the victim is identified as the new MP Harry is covertly brought in from the cold and, using his knowledge of the streets and the diverse groups and gangs of the underworld, he is deputed to find the killer. The current leader of the BNP (an Oxford man with a degree in politics) weasels neatly out of the picture and suspicion fastens on an old fascist and hitman, Lucas Dwight, recently released after a 14-year stretch in jail. When Harry finds him it transpires that the man converted to Islam when inside and now, by force of personality (and a devastating punch to the liver) he convinces Harry that he is innocent of the MP’s murder. So disgraced cop and devout white Moslem form a prickly alliance to trace the killer while incidentally uncovering a vast plot to gain control of the city: of its politics and police, its commerce and its phenomenal drugs industry.
Action takes place in one day. Intimidation, torture and murder are rife and the body count is high in the twelve hours approaching Eid, meanwhile, in a parallel universe, domestic interludes with Harry’s heavily pregnant wife provide quaint relief to the horrors in the streets, in derelict warehouses and opulent restaurants.
The author, born and bred in Bradford of Punjabi parents, has read voraciously and devoured the western culture of adult cartoons. It shows. Bradford is Gotham City and Harry a fusing of the Dark Knight and Philip Marlowe. There is more than an echo of The Godfather, and all the Lucretias since Ovid are epitomised in one mad Muslim wife and her husband, an appalling Penitente.
A colourful and exuberant book, with a thoughtful denouement that prepares the ground for a sequel to a topical fable that features a new hero to walk down yet more mean streets. It will polarize readers, not least the good citizens of Bradford.