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by Lesley Horton
Orion, September 2005
352 pages
ISBN: 0752861522

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Three books into Lesley Horton's series featuring Bradford DI John Handford and DS Khalid Ali, and I still can't decide what I think. But bear with me while I shuffle my thoughts.

The books are painfully topical in post-London bombs England -- and were so even before then. Horton, to her credit, is one of the few British crime writers to focus on race and racial unrest. There are discussions to be had on forced marriages, Muslim extremism and living in a liberal country where you don't approve of certain lifestyles, but I don't get the feeling Horton's a subtle enough writer to do this.

In her favour, her plotting is tight and compelling. In DEVILS IN THE MIRROR, Bradford police are investigating the murder of Shayla Richards, a young black girl found dead up on the moors. The position of her body suggests some sort of weird sacrifice.

And there's a suitably dodgy cast of suspects hanging around, including schoolteacher Graham Collins, who is suspended from school after being accused of sexually assaulting Shayla, and Sean Johnson, a convicted murderer whose niece was friends with the dead girl

Horton's a cracking storyteller, but the main problem, though, are the characters. Handford himself is actually quite dull, and pretty much acts as a cypher for the basically decent but rather old-fashioned cop. Ali is a much more complex character, as he tries to reconcile his life as a Muslim (and one with an arranged marriage) with being a policeman.

Part of my unease stems from the fact Horton seems incapable of presenting any positive non-white characters. Ali is prickly and arrogant, Shayla's mother is the stereotypical African-Caribbean mother, the counsellor Shahid Mustafa is a slimeball, and teaching assistant Jaswant Siddique is obnoxious and confrontational.

According to Horton's biography, she's worked in inner city schools, and I strongly suspect she has some horror stories to tell. But I'd like to see her portray ordinary Muslims and West Indians going about their everyday lives who aren't religious bigots or drug dealers.

Some of the characters do grow, though, as we find what makes racist cop Chris Warrender behave as he does. He emerges in many ways as a better cop and even at times a more sympathetic character than Ali.

So DEVILS IN THE MIRROR is well worth reading, and will linger in your mind for quite some time after. Whether for totally the right reasons, though, I still can't say.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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