Girl Zero: Compelling mystery story, where family matters above all else

Girl Zero Book review

What is this about?: Harry Virdee is a cop in Bradford, where at the end of book 1 he struck a deal with his brother, Ronnie, a criminal (who runs Bradford in his own way) to work together to protect the streets. In their own way – no one ever said it made sense, but it made sense to them. In this book, their worlds come crashing together again when Tara, Ronnie’s daughter, is murdered.

What else is this about?: Family, the pressures that come with being in an Asian family, steeped in tradition and the powerful, complicated relationships that come from it as a result.

Blurb:  There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent.

Stars: 4/5

I don’t think I can completely express how much I adore the Harry Virdee series. Thrillers, crime and mystery are my go-to genres, and let me just say, it’s not always a hotbed of diversity. I think it’s trying, but it’s not entirely. Which brings me to one of the main reasons this story resonates with me:


AA Dhand has written a series in which family plays an important part in his protagonist’s life. Harry is estranged from his family because he married a Muslim woman, Saima, and has a son with her now, Aaron. His father is a bigot, unwilling to bend the thinking he grew up with to take into account the world and the society he brought his family in to – as a result, he has broken his family, and holds on to his bigotry with all the might and power of someone afraid to let go of tradition. Harry points out in this book, that letting go of his bigotry scares him, because that would mean seeing Saima as a woman who loves his son, and not Muslim, and all the crap the world and his father’s upbringing and experiences would be proven to be wrong.

Sound familiar? Yeah, you could say it’s going around these days. That the thought comes in a crime novel doesn’t undermine how apt it is. It’s easier to blame than to admit you’re wrong and to see the good in people for who they are, rather than their religion.

What makes Dhand’s narrative all the more powerful is that he couches this within a family, within the bigotry that can come with tradition, but his writing always makes it clear that Harry loves his parents, respects them still though they have disowned him and his family. He wants to reconcile and that is something always worth remembering.

Dhand’s plot in this series, I thought, at the end of book one would be to focus on Harry and Ronnie, and their fragile deal to work together to protect Bradford in their way. When the book opens it results in Harry growing more successful with his work, while Ronnie still running his criminal enterprise and I looked forward to that dynamic.

Ronnie and Harry are inextricably tied by an act of violence Harry did years ago, but for which Ronnie paid the price. It still weighs on Harry, what he did, and the guilt wars with the love for his family and his brother in him. I don’t think there will ever be any happy ending for Ronnie and Harry, and that starts with the death of Harry’s niece here in this book – Tara.

Secrets and lies, and family

With her death, a wealth of secrets come out, ones Harry had no idea about, but is left scrambling to fix and resolve in a way. It’s painful reading how on the outs he is, and how he still tries to help.

Tara, herself, I would like to have known. In this book, she is a determined young woman, who was working hard to stand on her feet, much like Harry did, despite it getting her killed. Her story is one of trying to save the day, to do the right thing like Harry tries to do, but she failed, as does Harry from time to time. Her death sets Harry and Ronnie into a violent investigation of the last investigation she was working on as a journalist, and into a child trafficking ring, and on the path of a killer who has gone unchecked in Bradford for far too long.

Dhand’s Bradford is violent and dark, but no less so than any city in a crime novel. The brightness in it, is Harry’s family – his wife and son who keep him grounded through it all. What I like about this is, their family could be any cop’s family, but Harry is an Asian cop, who married a woman his family didn’t like, and is trying his best to balance it all.

The conclusion in this book resets Harry’s life in Bradford a little, a change that isn’t unwelcome, but I hope continues the focus on the brothers. Ronnie and Harry are poles apart in many ways, but similar in many combustible ways. They prove to be a compelling and heartbreaking combination for this novel, both steeped in violence and blood, but each valuing family above all else. It’s a powerful, riveting combination.


  • This sounds like a good one. I love mysteries/thrillers – and one that touches on diversity well is great!

    • Verushka says:

      The diversity, religion and problems (love of) with faith are handled so well in this book. It’s beyond impressive!

  • Greg says:

    Nice review. The family issues sound as compelling as the murder mystery, and since the victim was the cops niece I guess they’re pretty intertwined! Also the look at the traditional Asian family bonds being strained to the breaking point by Harry marrying a Muslim woman. Timely indeed for the times we’re living in. Sounds like a great series.

    • Verushka says:

      It’s such a compelling series, and Dhand handles the family issues so well, it just makes it all the better. He doesn’t shy away from difficult questions for his characters either.

  • AA dhand says:

    Thank you for the review! Glad I managed to keep you entertained!

    • Verushka says:

      More than entertained! I absolutely fell into Harry’s world, and his family’s too — this world, this family? Is just brilliant — my heart was beating was so fast for Harry and Ronnie toward the end and … I still just wanted them to find some peace for each other most especially. Gosh. AHHHH, please write the next one quickly! 🙂

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