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Black, Helen - Dishonour
Paperback: 400 pages (Dec. 2009) Publisher: AVON ISBN: 1847560725

The main story of this book must have been triggered from stories in the news about honour killings in the Muslim community. Yasmeen, a young Muslim, dies from a prescription drugs overdose that has been made to look like a suicide, but the police find the empty drug packets in her brother Raffique's locker, and arrest him for murder. Yasmeen was 10 weeks pregnant and the police suspect that this is another 'honour' killing, where a young girl was killed rather than bring dishonour to the family. Yasmeen's family initially ask Lilly, a heavily pregnant solicitor, for help in asking the police to release Yasmeen's body. But when Raffique is arrested, she ends up representing him, and trying to find out how Yasmeen really did die.

Lilly has just set up her own office for the first time, and appears to be completely disorganised. Not only is her office in chaos, but her family life is also. She is living with a policeman (Jack), but also has a ten-year-old son, Sam, from a previous relationship. Her relationship with Jack is a stormy one, and there is something up with Sam at school. Luckily, Taslima, a Muslim woman who is trained in law, turns up at her office, persuades Lilly to take her on, and at least manages to organise the office, and even get the coffee machine working. Not only that, but Taslima's cultural background proves pretty handy in helping Lilly to talk to the Muslim community to try to find out why Yasmeen might have been murdered, and she provides a nice clear-headed foil to the disorganised 'ditzy' blond Lilly.

The story picks up various threads from Lilly's investigation to her and Jack's relationship issues, his own problems at work in being taken seriously, and the story of another Muslim schoolgirl, Aahsa and her relationship with a persistent absconder, Ryan, and the danger she faces when she goes missing from home. These threads are interspersed with an account of Yasmeen's life just before she died. The stories touch on Muslim fundamentalism and its influence on young British Muslims. For example, early on in the book Raffique tells the magistrate in the first hearing that he doesn't accept British laws, which then scupper his chances of obtaining bail.

It's a brave subject for Helen Black to tackle, and while on the whole it is done reasonably well, occasionally it all becomes a bit cliched. Not only that, but the writing style is sometimes hard to take seriously. For example, in the first few pages of the book, there is a description of Lilly's friend Penny as a "yummy mummy appearance, with an addiction to Harvey Nicks, yet kind and honest and often providing respite care to disabled children". This did make me wonder if I was going to be able to take the rest of the book seriously. But, writing style aside, the plotting is good, the story is full of plot twists and turns, and has plenty to keep the reader interested. But we all know that Lilly is going to end up having her baby in a car park somewhere towards the end, once everything else is sorted out, and she does!

Michelle Peckham, England
June 2011

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 5/06/2011 11:16