Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan

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Written by Victoria

One of the things fiction does best is bring to life otherwise abstract debates on political or philosophical matters. There’s nothing like a story for showing us 360 degrees around a social issue, making us care and – perhaps most usefully of all – enlightening us to points of view we would otherwise never have understood. Eva Dolan’s brilliant new crime series is set in Peterborough, the city in the UK with arguably the most urgent problems caused by immigration, and features the Hate Crimes unit, underfunded and understaffed but led with courage and passion by DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira. Not only are Dolan’s books impressive noir dramatisations of racial issues, they are also outstanding works of crime fiction, authentic, intricate, electrifying. In other words, put down your copies of the Daily Mail and pick up Tell No Tales, if you really want to understand the immigrant situation today.

In this second outing for Zigic and Ferreira, the fragile peace of early morning Peterborough is broken when a car ploughs into the queue at the bus stop, killing two Polish workers and leaving the sister of one of the dead battered and bruised. Is this a random accident or a targeted attack? When it turns out that the car involved appears to have been purchased specifically for the incident, its new owner disappearing behind a screen of dodgy dealers and their insufficient accounts, the crime looks a lot like murder. But why would anyone want to kill two young, hardworking women?

The accident comes at a difficult time for Zigic and Ferreira who are already involved in a more complex and sinister series of crimes. Three young and harmless immigrants have been beaten to death in a series of incidents which have had disturbing neo-Nazi overtones, the killer unidentifiable in a balaclava saluting the CCTV cameras over his sickening work. Aware of racial tension mounting in the city, Zigic and Ferreira must try to contain their investigation and bring it to a swift conclusion before panic and rioting destroy what little harmony exists. There’s external pressure too, from the top of the police commission and the civic dignitaries, while Ferreira is convinced that local politician, Richard Shotton must be involved. Shotton is head of an extreme right-wing party that is making a steady march on power, fuelled by growing nationalistic unease. And Shotton is all too aware of what a body blow could be struck to his political chances if his party is shown to perpetuate links to the violent organisations out of which it originally rose.

Zigic and Ferreira are a formidable team, with complicated relations to the people they aim to protect. Ferreira still lives with her family, tied tighter and longer than she likes to her Portuguese immigrant parents out of the understanding that family sticks together against a hostile world. Having personal knowledge of what it’s like to arrive in a foreign country and try to make a living there, she acts often out of rage and a bruising sense of injustice, fearless in a fight, but sometimes blinded by her own convictions. Zigic is an altogether more self-contained character, part of a Serbian family long since assimilated into the region. He is clearly a good man, trying to do his best for all concerned in unwinnable battles, guiding his team with sympathy and fairness. But his name, his looks, his wife’s drive to climb the social ladder, all take him painfully back to his family’s roots. Zigic is the thinker of the novel, the social conscience that does not turn away from the truth, no matter how distressing:

The world became smaller and yet less intimate, homogenised on a superficial level only, and it seemed to him that the further people moved from home the more aggressively they defended the perceived uniqueness of their own culture.

I have to mention Peterborough, as well, as a powerful character in the novel. A city of conflicting inner quarters, fraught with tension, its unattractive architecture further blighted by poverty and neglect. You might not want to live there after reading one of Eva Dolan’s books, but you can’t help but sit on its uncomfortable plastic chairs in bleak and ugly waiting rooms and spend time in damp, uninsulated garages rented out for unreasonable prices to people straight off the boats. It’s a world away from the creature comforts most of us enjoy, and a way of life we all ought to sample, even at a virtual distance, to become aware of what the reality of immigrant existence is like.

I started this book one Saturday morning and couldn’t tear myself away from it until it was finished on Sunday evening, despite all the other calls on my reading time. I’m not even a fan of gritty crime, generally. But Eva Dolan is a force to be reckoned with, and this series is simply outstanding, so completely and powerfully contemporary, so viscerally real and authentic. It fulfills the fundamental brief of all crime fiction to draw back the façade of civilisation and see the terrifying emotions that lie beneath.

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Victoria is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

Eva Dolan, Tell No Tales (Harvill Secker, London, 2015) 978-1846557781, 384 pp., hardback.

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