by Vicky Newham
“Girls, we’re sitting at the intersection of religion, bureaucracy, culture and politics.”
Situated in London’s traditional East End, the Borough of Tower Hamlets has one of the highest ethnic minority populations in the city – in particular, a well established British Bengali community – known locally as ‘Londonis’.
This racially diverse zone is DI Maya Rahman’s patch, and the place she grew up after leaving Sylhet with her parents and siblings at the age of four. When the popular headmistress at her old school is found brutally and ritualistically murdered, she is left working against the clock to determine why an ancient Buddhist precept: “I shall abstain from taking the ungiven,” has been written on a piece of card and left at the scene.
Rahman is a flawed but empathetic individual with a complex backstory. She is single-minded and driven, but also cares about the people she encounters, especially those who are victims of racially motivated crimes. Her sidekick, the Australian detective sergeant Dan Maguire, is an intriguing character who enables the author to indulge her interest in Aboriginal culture by having him compare ethnic tensions in Sydney and London.
This is Vicky Newham’s debut novel, and the first to feature DI Maya Rahman. She now lives and writes in the pretty harbour town of Whitstable, but for many years was a psychologist, and became a secondary school teacher in East London. In a Q&A session with her at the back of the novel, she talks about her connection with the area, revealing that many of her pupils were Bangladeshi, and in order to help them “gain as much as possible from their education”, she endeavoured to “learn about their lives.” She is, apparently, still in touch with many people there, which she found “useful for the books.”
I found the topic of ethnic diversity to be one of the most compelling aspects of the novel – and it certainly drove the plot of this contemporary police procedural – although I didn’t guess whodunnit until all was revealed at the end. There is also an intriguing Rahman family mystery weaving itself through the storyline, but it’s left unresolved, meaning it will undoubtedly reappear at a later date.
I had slight reservations about the constant switch from first to third person narrative, which was sometimes distracting and made the quality of writing seem patchy. However, one expects a few minor blips of this sort in a first novel.
Turn a Blind Eye is the first book in a forthcoming series to feature Maya Rahman, and has already been optioned for TV by Playground Entertainment. The second, Out of the Ashes, is due for publication on 4th April 2019.
Many thanks to HQ Stories for providing an advance review copy of this title.