Written by Barbara Nadel — Former soldier and ex-cop Lee Arnold runs an enquiry agency in London’s East End. His assistant is Mumtaz Hakim is a psychology graduate and, as a Muslim, wears a headscarf. She walks the tightrope between the conflicting demands of being a woman in Bangladeshi society and those of being a modern professional. She accepts a case on behalf of a woman – dying of the degenerative Huntington’s disease – who wants the truth about how and why she was abandoned as a baby to be found in a phone box by a nun from a nearby convent.
Meanwhile, Arnold has accepted a very high profile case, which he must pursue in absolute secrecy. Harry, the son of Superintendent Paul Venus, is missing. A hefty ransom demand has been made which involves a drop at a property on Brick Lane. Arnold has to use Hakim’s local knowledge and contacts to try to follow the money.
Mumtaz Hakim has problems of her own. She lives alone with her teenage daughter Shazia as her abusive husband was murdered because of his involvement with a notorious East End crime gang, the Sheikhs. When he died he still owed large sums to the gangsters and his death hasn’t erased his debt. The Sheikhs – in particular the odious Naz – are determined to reclaim what’s owed.
Arnold’s investigations take him to a prestigious public school outside London. The missing Harry struggled for acceptance in the school as the other boys were all sons of old money. A bizarre and disgusting discovery in an expensively converted warehouse flat points Arnold in the direction of one of the teachers, who has an unhealthy preoccupation with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The involvement of a retired old-school gangster adds an extra dimension, and as Mumtaz solves the case of the abandoned baby she discovers an almost implausible but shocking international connection.
This is a crime novel, not a commentary on Islam, but Nadel pulls no punches with a back-story of simmering tension between the older members of the Bangladeshi community and the younger zealots. Enough Rope is not stridently feminist either, but the point is made very clearly that at the edges of this community there is a shocking attitude towards women. The two main story strands weave together in an enjoyable way and even if the identity of the kidnappers is telegraphed fairly early on, Nadel still manages to add a couple of interesting refinements.
The setting is superb. That particular part of the East End has always been home to refugees. First came the Huguenots, then the Jews of Eastern Europe, and now the Bangladeshis. Each has shaped the area and as a crime novel setting, it has few equals. There is one irritating aspect to the story. When Lee Arnold first visits the school he experiences a sinister moment and this seems to go unresolved and unexplained through to the end of the book. This is the first Hakim and Arnold novel I’ve read and I’ll make an effort to read some of the previous ones – and look forward to the next.
We interviewed Barbara Nadel in 2012 and you can read that here. We’ve also reviewed her novel An Act of Kindness which is part of the Hakim and Arnold series, and Dead of Night, which isn’t. Enough Rope is released 6 August.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars