Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
Set against the Olympics and its effects on the locality on which they’ve been imposed, A Private Affair begins with a comedy routine from the UK’s version of Joan Rivers, Maria Peters. She’s an ‘80’s comedian with ‘a lovely face and a foul mouth’ who’s trying to make a comeback after her husband’s death.
But she’s also become a Christian after joining the Church of Holy Pentecostal Fire, and fallen under the spell of its charismatic leader, Pastor Paul Grint, and an old friend Betty. Maria has demons from her past as well as a tranquiliser habit and she begins to feel that she’s being targeted and watched by an unknown person who knows her secrets. As a local girl from the East End who still lives there, she employs the services of the Arnold Agency run by handsome but faded ex-cop Lee Arnold and his newly employed, ambitious secretary, Mumtaz Hakim. At Maria’s request they install CCTV and microphones and wait for the stalker to reveal themselves as Maria becomes a nervous wreck. However, after another mysterious incident Maria insists on the surveillance equipment being removed and begins to sink further and further into despair and depression and, unknown to her, a close friend believes that she really wants to be with her dead husband.
Mumtaz, a sharply intelligent Westernised widowed Muslim woman, soon puts her psychology degree to good use in discussing Maria’s case with Lee as she adroitly fends off her well-meaning parents attempts to marry her off again. She is still recovering from having her husband die in her arms after being stabbed in the street and his wealth being revealed to be a house of cards. But although originally hired as Lee’s secretary Mumtaz soon begins to attract new business to the agency in the form of Asian ladies wanting help and Lee realises that he has unexpectedly acquired an asset. This is entwined with a local flasher, Mumtaz’s relationship with her step-daughter and dodgy evangelical churches amongst other subplots. However, there was a point at roughly halfway through this book when I thought that the author had crammed too many of these into the book and I was beginning to lose track of what was happening. But I like an ambitious novel and this one has a very broad canvas on which to weave its tale.
I enjoyed Nadel’s handling of an area of London, the East End, and its state of constant flux. Firstly, successive waves of immigrants replacing previous ones as with Asians taking over Jewish areas. Mumtaz recalls being scared by the traces of Hebrew writing on tablets in an ex-synagogue. And now the Olympics are engulfing the area and forcing out established residents and concreting over their traces. It’ll be interesting to read these novels with an Olympic backdrop in a few years’ time once it’s all over and see who were the winners and the losers.
Mumtaz was a believable and well-rounded character who was a survivor trying to make the best of what life has thrown her way and she felt more developed than Lee. He appeared to be a Delboy character, a chancer, with his own baggage such as his long-ago quickie with DI Vi Collins who still carries a torch for him. I found it hard to visualise him and his useless brother, Roy, and Chronus, Lee’s mynah bird. Lee and Mumtaz are ostensibly an odd couple and that’s often how the best crime partnerships are formed. A Private Affair was an enjoyable novel with many strands, some of which worked better than others. But the main plotline seemed to run out of steam halfway through as if the author had become bored with it and, for me, it ended unsatisfactorily. I was also unconvinced by a seedy subplot involving Shazia, Mumtaz’s step-daughter and the dirty old man next door, Martin Gold and also the murder of a young boy for his mobile phone which seemed to have been tacked on.
Nadel's affection for the East End and its transformation by the Games is very apparent in the novel and the constantly evolving culture and community. This is the first in the Hakim and Arnold mysteries but doesn't suffer from the usual setting up problems as the characters and story are introduced. Nadel is a skilled and experienced writer within these fields and has chosen her themes and central character well. I look forward to the second Hakim and Arnold mystery already.