City of Sinners: a story of family mixed in with a mystery and commentary about Asian culture

City of Sinners book review

What is this about?: Someone is kidnapping, and killing Asian (read Indian/Muslim) girls in Bradford —  with wasp stings. DI Harry Virdee is on the case, but soon finds out he *is* the case.

What else is this about?: Family, on the toxic nature of religion and tradition in Asian culture. It is by no means saying that tradition is something to be ignored, but it should be an excuse to cause harm to women (or men).

Blurb

It is an ordinary Yorkshire morning, cold and miserable.

The streets are not yet busy. Police cars hurriedly pull up in the centre of town, but none of their lights are flashing and the sirens are silent.

A body has been found, elaborately and painstakingly positioned to send a message. But what message? And to who?

It’s DI Harry Virdee’s job to find out. But Harry doesn’t know that the killer is watching him, that the killer is coming for him.

Because this is personal

Stars: 4/5

For someone for whom pacing can make or break a book, City of Sinners is perfectly paced, with Dhand’s efficient writing propelling even the quieter moments ever forward.

Dhand launches right into the case that Harry is investigating with the death of a young woman, in a particularly gruesome way. The autopsy quickly establishes that this is a meticulous killer, one who knows his victims – in this case, he knew that she was allergic to wasps because she died from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. From there the case moves forward full steam ahead, because the killer is a binge killer, with women being kidnapped and killed quickly over a short space of time – at least until he kidnaps Ayesha, the daughter of Home Secretary, who is Asian too, and who proves to be an ally in unexpected ways.

The case is confusing, brutal and takes a toll on Harry. But while he is chasing down leads, Dhand turns our attention to Saima, Harry’s wife, and his estranged family, bringing the theme of tradition to the fore.

Tradition and Brown on Brown racism

This book explores the ugliness of tradition, on the chasms that it causes families when it is blindly followed with no room for movement. It’s a theme that has persisted from the first book, when we find out that Harry has been estranged from his family since he married Saima, his Muslim wife. He still maintained contact with his older brother Ronnie, who essentially runs the criminal underground in Bradford, and Harry knows this. When this book opens however, it’s been two years, since the death of Ronnie’s eldest daughter Tara, that they have been in contact.

Which means when Saima, a nurse, saves the life of his bigoted father in her hospital, she throws them all back together.

Harry’s father hates Muslims. It’s as simple as that. He violently attacked Harry when he announced he was marrying Saima – that’s how deep, and ugly his bigotry runs. When Saima saves him, she is brought back into Jyoti’s (Harry’s mother) orbit, introducing her to Aaron, her grandson and letting them bond. But, hovering in the background is Harry’s father, and the fact that he doesn’t know who Saima is. For her part, she cannot understand why he would hate her so – and the book doesn’t explain it. Harry’s father is a bigot, — he hates Muslims and that’s all there is to it for him. And that’s at the core of this – that blind following to tradition or to a hate, without thinking for yourself is the cause of so much horror and heartache.

As ugly as his father is, his mother is treat to see interact with Saima, to give her something of a relationship she’s never had with her parents – who basically went off to Pakistan, ashamed when she told them she was marrying Harry. In this book though we’re introduced to Nadia, her sister and the fact that they’ve reconnected in the two years since the last book.

Their relationship, like Saima’s interaction with Jyoti shows the beauty of tradition, shows that it does not need to be lost in a new culture or country, and that there’s a balance of old and new that can be achieved.

So it makes sense when Jyoti begins to work on a plan to introduce Saima to her husband, to try and make him see sense – and without telling Harry.

Harry and Ronnie

While this is going on, Harry’s case progresses to the point that he realises how personal it actually is, and that the killer is out to make him suffer. He suspects it might be because Ronnie confessed to someone that 19 years ago, Harry killed someone in self defence and Ronnie took the blame – it’s this that brings the brothers back together, with Harry suspecting that whoever Ronnie told is behind the killing. Except, Ronnie would never do that to him. This re-introduction of the brothers shows their bond, that family bond that runs deeper than anything. It also expertly sets up the next book in the series.

 It draws the brothers ever closer together, but honestly guys, I’m in awe of how it all comes together in the end. I’m trying very hard not to go into more detail and spoil bits in this book, because I want to yell about it from the rooftops and tell everyone to read this series now.

Dhand has given a searing commentary on tradition in this book, on those people who hold on to it like their shield against change – whether it’s a new country, or a new way of doing things. It’s an excuse for people not to change, to stagnate and actually lose out on so much because they will not change. Tradition is what drives the killer in the ugliest of ways when everything is revealed. Harry has never lost his tradition, but he and Saima are holding on to the traditions of both their faiths in their own way.

Did I mention how Dhand sets up the next book in the series in this one, so subtly I didn’t even realise it until the end? Because he totally does and I wish more authors were as good as that. I waited too long to read this one, and you can bet I will be on pins and needles for the next one.

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