Written by Chris Culver — When I heard that this self-published debut ebook became an Amazon bestseller and then made the New York Times bestseller list too, I have to admit I was curious to read it. As with indie film-makers, I’ve always believed in giving indie writers a chance. The paperback edition from Sphere, however, is a slick, well-edited affair with a suitably professional cover. It feels a world removed from its independent publishing roots. And it can hold its own on the bookshelves among other crime thrillers.
Ashraf (Ash) Rashid needs a career change. As a homicide detective, he can no longer bear to inform families about dead loved-ones. His unresolved murder investigations have driven him to drink, in direct conflict with his Muslim faith. Retraining to work in the prosecutor’s office he has one last next of kin notification to make, and this one hits him especially hard. His teenage niece Rachel is found dead on the property of one of the city’s VIPs, whose son appears to have been her boyfriend. Ash refuses to accept the verdict of accidental overdose – his niece was too involved in sports to take drugs. However, it turns out that there were many things the family did not know about Rachel. She had a wealthy boyfriend, an interest in vampire culture, and had reshuffled her list of highschool friends.
Against the wishes of his superiors, Ash launches his own personal investigation to try and find out what happened to his niece. When, shortly afterwards Rachel’s boyfriend appears to commit suicide and leaves a written confession, Ash gets even more suspicious. His unwillingness to accept the obvious answers makes him and his family targets for shadowy, deadly opponents.
The plot is very complex, involving vampire club scenes, biological warfare, corrupt police, drug dealers and dodgy Russian businessmen. There is not a dull moment in this fast-paced thriller, partly because Ash makes some very reckless decisions, which will make you want to cry out: ‘Stop, stop! Look behind you!’ in sheer frustration.
The Abbey is a solid police prodedural, with unflagging pace and planting of clues, excitement and colourful characters. At times, however, it did feel a little like plotting by numbers was taking over. By that, I mean the author was throwing too much in order to keep it moving. The plausibility and motivations of the secondary characters were also rather vague at times.
However, I found Ash Rashid utterly beguiling, and he has the potential to become the protagonist in an on-going series. He may not be the first Muslim detective in the history of crime fiction – some excellent examples include Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen and Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German private detective Kemal Kayankaya – but it is a new departure in an American setting. His background added a bit of exotic flavour, but there were hints of prejudice and deeper-rooted differences, which I hope will be developed further in the sequel. Ash is something of a lone cowboy or hardboiled detective so familiar in US crime fiction. He certainly shares many traits with other detectives who are shunned by their colleagues. He is impulsive, rebels against authority and refuses to admit that he is an alcoholic. However, he is also a loving husband and father, full of compassion towards his sister but also towards unknown victims, and he keeps on saying his prayers even when his life is being turned upside down.
Chris Culver has produced a very encouraging debut novel, which deserves its mainstream success. I suspect that the second one in the series will be even better.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars