Parker Bilal – The Heights (blog tour)
Published by Black Thorn Books, paperback £8.99. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
First, the official blurb: What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat.
The second in a series featuring ex-DI Cal Drake and forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane, The Heights opens on a Tube train, where exhausted mother Ruby is dealing with a crying baby and a sulking, mulishly disobedient nine-year-old who only stops kicking his mother’s shins to start kicking at a bag near his feet. It takes her a moment to process what she is seeing roll out of the bag before she joins the screaming chorus on the packed carriage… Meanwhile, Drake and Crane are trying to discover if a potential client – a figure from Crane’s past, and not an entirely welcome one – has a case for them to investigate or not.
Drake and Crane start to look into missing student Howeida, from Saudi Arabia. But if she is really missing, wouldn’t the university dean have a record of missed classes and assignments, or the friends and flatmate they speak to have reported her disappearance and show they are worried? It’s all very strange.
DS Kelly Marsh and DC Milo Kowalski, who are working on the severed head case, reveal to their former boss that it belongs to a headless corpse washed up near Brighton four years ago; a body thought to be that of an informant working for Drake while he was undercover.
We’re less than three dozen pages into The Heights, but I’m already dizzy processing information – and frankly a little queasy every time the head is discussed.
To begin with, what we learn about Drake is work-related, while by contrast we follow Crane into her personal life as she tries to untangle the financial knots her father – from whom she is mostly estranged – has woven for himself. The relevance? You’ll have to wait and see. Memories impinge on Drake of the time he was undercover, working to take down a man called Goran, when he first met Zelda. It’s interesting to see these flashbacks, and what he saw then has obvious affected the man he is now, but we’re half-way through the book and I’m eager to see progress in the new case – and on the missing student too. Again, I must learn to be more patient.
That’s the key to The Heights: Be patient and settle in for the slow burn. What appear to be dead ends, cul-de-sacs, diversions, are all building a picture of a London that Drake is familiar with, yet most people never see – the homelessness, the sex trade, the less than legal business deals. They also build a picture of the world Goran operated in – and why Drake was so determined to take him down.
Meanwhile, Crane is sampling the much more rarified air of the world of offshore accounts, shell companies and international money laundering as she tries to make headway in the disappearance of Howeida. Whether investigating upmarket or down and dirty, it seems the rule is the same: follow the money. But beware of what you might find if you do, and what might happen to you when you get too close to the truth…
I was frustrated with The Heights early on, but stick with it – the pace picks up, and the action, and the ending is strong. I’m not convinced about the subplot involving Howeida, but the main strand of Drake and Zelda is compelling, and the final pages suggest we may hear more of the case as it threatens to get even more personal for Drake than he or we could have imagined.
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub, a critically acclaimed literary novelist. He is the author of the Makana Investigations series, the third of which, The Ghost Runner, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2015. The Divinities, the first in his Crane and Drake series, was published in 2019. Born in London, he has lived in the UK, Denmark, Spain. He currently lives in the Netherlands.