Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 July 2022 from Canongate Books
My thanks to Canongate Books for an early copy for review
In London, private investigator Dr Rayhana Crane is contacted by a woman who has received an unexpected letter from her estranged son Jason, not seen since he left to become a fighter for Islamic State. When his steps are traced back to the old stomping ground of her partner, Cal Drake, the former policeman goes undercover to infiltrate the sinister network which took Jason abroad.
Meanwhile, Crane pursues a woman whose seemingly unconnected disappearance off the English coast is soon found to reveal a deadlier connection. As the two investigators delve deeper, they find themselves mired in a violent world where terror and organised crime intersect.
To my discredit, I have not read a Parker Bilal book before; something I plan to remedy. Our protagonists are former Detective Sergeant Calil Drake, latterly of the Violent Crimes Unit and forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane. This pair now works together as a team undertaking private investigations.
The Trenches opens with a woman being rescued by a fishing boat off the coast of Grimsby, resulting in the loss of a life. That woman disappears and we are left to wonder what her connection might be to Jason, the missing son of a woman who is trying to trace him as he has not contacted her since he left to fight for Islamic State. Dr Rayhana Crane knows that Cal Drake has both the experience and the skills to go underground and infiltrate the networks that would have most likely helped to get Jason abroad to train.
They’re an interesting couple, Crane and Drake. Rayahnna Crane is Iranian, and is a motor cycle riding psychologist. She gives little away. Her romantic dalliances are always beautiful but fleeting. Cal Drake is ex-army as well as ex-police and in this book he needs all his experience to fathom what’s going on in the multi-cultural swirls of London’s criminal undercurrents. Drake is also mourning the loss of Zelda after her brutal murder and is tracking the man he believes responsible – a man he once trusted with his life.
The police are investigating the brutal murder of journalist Cathy Perkins, though no-one seems to know exactly what story she was working on. Drake’s former partner, DS Kelly Marsh is on point, working with DS Mark Chiang from Parliamentary and Diplomatic protection. Chiang’s current theory is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that it was her partner, rising politician MP Zoe Helms, who was the real target, though Marsh remains unconvinced.
Parker Bilal’s books are firmly rooted in reality. The sense of not just a diverse police force but also a criminal strata based on ethnicity rings true. I really found the warring gangs truthful and the more chilling because of that.
In fact, I think chilling is the word I’d use for the overarching feeling this book gave me. There are all sorts of crime fiction and I like a wide variety in my reading, but this book felt closer to real life than anything I have read for a while and it is that authenticity, combined with a real understanding of how power and influence are inextricably linked to money laundering, drug smuggling and terrorism that really hits home in a deeply uncomfortable way.
This is the depiction of a London which is deeply riven by class and ethnicity in so many ways, yet also one where the interdependence of politics, money and organised crime explain so much about why nothing ever changes for the better, no matter who is in power.
Verdict: A chilling, uncomfortable book that shows how money and power make for corrupt influence and decision making. I enjoyed the authentic portrayal of multi-cultural London and the fascinating pairing of Drake and Crane makes for a great team of opposites. This is a powerful and impactful portrayal of how crime works at different levels. I’m certainly going back to read the first two in this series.
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Jamal Mahjoub is a British-Sudanese writer. Born in London, he was raised in Khartoum where his family remained until 1990. He has lived in a number of places, including the UK, Denmark, Spain and, currently, the Netherlands. His novels include Travelling with Djinns and The Drift Latitudes. Under the pseudonym Parker Bilal he is the author of the Inspector Makana crime series and, most recently, the Crane and Drake series. His latest non-fiction book, A Line in the River, was longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize.