Written by Eva Dolan — Dead men tell no tales. CSI’s Gus Grissom would probably take issue with that old adage, but for Peterborough detectives Dushan Zigic and Mel Ferreira it’s quite a problem. Just when they think they’ve got a suspect or witness to break open their investigation, the darned fella turns up dead. Frustratingly for them, it happens throughout Eva Dolan’s wonderful second novel.
Leading the local constabulary’s Hate Crimes Department, the pair are out to solve two brutal cases. Firstly, an African man and a Muslim man have been kicked to death – literally. Both crimes were caught on CCTV but the footage is indistinct, and the culprit wore a balaclava. They know it’s a hate crime, though, because he gives a Nazi salute when the job’s done. It’s sickening stuff and Ferreira is particularly riled.
The other crime is a little more random. As two Slovenian sisters wait for an early morning minibus to take them to work on a nearby farm, a white Volvo comes racing at them, engine gunning. A Polish passer-by pushes Sofia out of the way, but Jelena is smashed head-on and so is the Pole. They’re both killed on the spot. With cap pulled down to hide his face, the culprit leaps out of the car and runs for it. Though most bystanders are filming the aftermath on their smartphones, a few do give chase… but he gets away.
At first, the Polish victim can’t even be identified. However, Jelena’s boyfriend has past form for stalking women he’s dated. When Zigic and Ferreira track Anthony Gilbert down, he’s taken a drug overdose and is rushed to hospital. Is it guilt or grief? Ferreira thinks guilt. Once he comes round Sofia – battered, bruised and in the same hospital after the hit-and-run – tries to kill him in his bed. Complicating matters even further, Dolan’s high energy plot brings in a Nigel Farage-style politician, some militant Asians who are sick of the attacks, and Far Right groups who believe the revolution is nigh.
When another man is kicked to death and a riot ensues, Zigic and Ferreira’s plight goes from desperate to depressing. However, they get a break and manage to bring in the killer. Finally, halfway through the book, they can start connecting the dots between the victims, the villains and the hate mongers. Trouble is, it turns out there’s more than one killer at large – perhaps even a network of them.
Yes, there are crushed skulls, nail bombs and Molotov cocktails along the way, but for all the violence the plot is subtly layered. If anything Eva Dolan’s storytelling is even better than in her first novel, Long Way Home, which was a readers’ favourite in 2014. The quiet, thoughtful Zigic and the fiery, inexperienced Ferreira are fuller characters in the sequel, their strengths and weaknesses more apparent. Of Serbian extraction, DI Zigic is a sympathetic detective – quiet, careful and considered. By contrast, the Portuguese DS Ferreira is often infuriatingly direct. But now and then her instincts and drive get results.
Even in the information age, we make a lot of assumptions about people with different backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s something the author highlights throughout a novel that looks at race and immigration issues from numerous angles through her broad range of characters. Two-thirds of the way through, Zigic reflects on all the assumptions they’ve made during their investigation when they should have kept open minds. It has cost them time, and lives too, perhaps. The realisation doesn’t help him much, though. In a politically charged atmosphere, the pressure is on to bring an end to the killings and even though you’ll probably have guessed who’s behind them well before Zigic and Ferreira, that tension will have you turning the pages right to the end.
Tell No Tales comes out on 8 January. You can read our interview with Eva Dolan here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars