Dishonour by Helen Black

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Dishonour by Helen Black

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A fast and (mostly) believable tale of fear and vengeance in the midst of modern racial tensions.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: December 2009
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 978-1847560728

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Modern lives.

Lily Valentine is heavily pregnant and trying to get her own law firm up and running (having been sacked from her previous job for a tendency to be a trifle too independent – or maybe just disorganised).

Ryan is a boy from the sink estates. Thin, angry, rebellious, but with an ability to charm and a serious talent for art that gets lost in his gansta-speak and tendency to skive off school.

Lailla and Aasha are good Muslim girls. Hard-working, sober, appropriately dressed, dutiful to their families. They're also English teenagers, with a fair dose of what that normally implies.

Jack is a copper, overlooked for the interesting cases (like murder), good at child protection, in love with Lily, addicted to the job, always trying to do the right thing, and not always succeeding. His current clean-living and caring attitude is driving Lily to distraction.

Then there's Yasmeen. Yasmeen is dead. Suicide. Apparently she went to her room, drank a can of coke with a cocktail of pills crumbled into it, and breathed her last. The family accept this, and come to Lily to urge the police to release her body for burial.

DI Bell sees things differently though. He thinks there is something not quite right about the death. Why would Yasmeen kill herself?

As he starts to investigate, and Lily tries to placate the family, Ryan starts chatting up Aasha on msn. But it's only cyber-chat isn't it. It's not like she's really doing anything wrong. Not like Lailla. Of course she's her friend, but there are rumours about her behaviour that Aasha can't quite discount.

Modern lives, going on their usual messy modern way.

Knowing that the police have a right to investigate anything suspicious, and feeling a wall of resistance from the family when she tries to find out anything that might help speed things up, Lily is about to walk away. Until DI Bell walks in and arrests Yasmeen's brother for her murder.

A helpless 15-year-old with a hitherto good academic record is not someone she wants to see drawn unnecessarily into the justice system, even one as stroppy and angry as Raffy. Whatever Jack might think about her leaving work until after the baby is born, this is one she cannot just let go.

A touch of unreality is added to the story when another young Muslim woman, with a law degree, simply walks in off the street and asks Lily for a job. OK, as the story develops, we find things out about her that might motivate such bravado, but even so… Not even talking about a salary? A family lawyer taking on an assistant without even reading the CV never mind basics like CRB checks? Now that just isn't going to happen.

Which is a shame, because the rest is utterly, scarily, possible.

When a second girl from the Muslim community goes missing, Jack's work and Lily's collide and both are drawn into the hidden world where extreme notions of honour and shame lead to the inevitable vigilantes. Driven by faith, misguided by tradition, or simply led by the easy money there are people on the streets willing to help when purity slips.

The other side of the story is hinted at. Each chapter starts with a diary entry by an unknown writer: a writer exploring their faith and becoming increasingly politicised.

This aspect works well, once you've grasped it. The first incidence I found confusing. We start with a subheading May 2009. It seems reasonable to assume then that the September 2005 at the top of Chapter 2 has shifted the whole focus, especially as there is no device to show the point at which the story shifts back to the May '09 timeline.

This quibble aside and with a (very) little suspension of disbelief, Dishonour will satisfy the fans of crime thrillers.

The setting is real and worrying. The prejudices (on both sides) likewise. Black's style is direct and her pace flawless. The hunt is on. Some people are exactly what they seem, many are not. Timings are governed by police procedures. Evidence is required, found, lost, withheld. Court process is a blunt instrument even at the best of times. And stroppy teenagers don't help themselves.

There are enough clues and counter-clues to engage the puzzle-minded, and no easy happy-ever-after endings.

Not a Booker candidate, but a good solid read.

If you like Helen Black, you might also enjoy Grace Monroe's Dark Angels and Blood Lines. You might also enjoy The Curious Mystery of Miss Lydia Larkin and the Widow Marvell by Joolz Denby.

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