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Barbara Nadel is both a find and a treasure, currently writing two series. With Headline she pursues the Turkish cases of Inspector Ikmen – now up to novel seventeen at the time of writing – and with Quercus she has just delivered her third Hakim & Arnold mystery, set closer to home.
Having served time in the army followed by a career in the Met, Lee Arnold now runs his own detective agency in the East End of London. Reflecting the ethnic diversity of the colourful and crime-soaked area, Lee is more than ably supported by his Muslim assistant, Mumtaz Hakim and a freelancer called Amy.
In Poisoned Ground Mumtaz takes on the case of Egyptian mother Salwa, whose husband Hatem is in Belmarsh Prison awaiting trial on charges of possessing a home-made bomb. Salwa claims her husband is innocent, and believes he was set up by a work colleague; she wants Mumtaz to find the proof. This case takes Mumtaz into a mental hospital in an undercover role as an advocate.
Meanwhile Lee is on the trail of an errant ex-husband. His wealthy and soppy ex-wife can live with the divorce and the property money he’s taken from her, but she’s worried about him as he’s missing. Conveniently, this takes Lee on a recce in Southend where he can stay with his new girlfriend Susan. If he’s not experiencing a little bit of domestic tension there, he has it in his own home with police ex-colleague Tony Bracci who has moved in as a lodger due to an emergency.
There is a tense story arc across this series concerning Mumtaz’s domestic circumstances and in Poisoned Ground Nadel puts her foot to the floor before upping the gears. Just when Mumtaz thinks she can be free of some debts on the sale of her house, someone relays the terms and conditions of “otherwise” …
The Hakim & Arnold mysteries are populated with strong, vivid and believable characters, sympathetically bringing the East End to life. In style they are classic crime fiction. With Poisoned Ground Nadel also throws a spotlight over the history of the East End and its re-development – something that had me performing additional net research. Drawing on her own experience of working in mental health services within the NHS, this novel also conveys an authentic fictional construction.
This is tense, compelling contemporary crime fiction at its best. Not to be missed.