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by Barbara Nadel
Headline, March 2006
276 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755321375

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Crime Writers of America Silver Dagger laureate Barbara Nadel writes about busy, lifelike, multicultural communities -- but what city does not conform to that description? Having won acclaim for her Inspector Ikmen police procedurals, set in vibrant contemporary Istanbul, Nadel has begun a new series. Set in London during the Blitz, LAST RIGHTS introduced an unlikely, maudlin, yet surprisingly sympathetic amateur sleuth: undertaker Francis Hancock.

In his second adventure, Frank Hancock is taking care of the bodies of air raid victims, and trying his best to take care of their survivors as well, when he's called out to Epping Forest to prepare the body of a young Romani woman, Rosie Lee, for burial.

The forest is teeming with inhabitants, as the Gypsies have been joined by families left homeless by the bombs, and by some German citizens, including a family of German Jewish internment camp survivors and a German Gypsy named Martin Stojka, who are trying to escape re-internment in Britain as German citizens and therefore, theoretically, enemy collaborators.

When Hancock comes to get Rosie Lee's body for burial, her sister Lily has a 'vision' of the Virgin Mary in a tree, inspiring the hopes and fears of the forest refugees, their persecutors in the police force, and the non-homeless locals, including Hancock's comedic elderly mother and Blitz-traumatised cousin Stella.

When Lily, too, is murdered, and local police officer Mansard refuses to investigate the most obvious suspect, Hancock investigates miracles and accusations, and gets drawn into an increasingly deadly and dangerous maze of suspicion, murder, and political intrigue. He must find the murderer to vindicate the Epping Forest Gypsies, and to save his own life.

Hancock's flame, the ex-Jewish prostitute Hannah Jacobs, was a bit too close to the 'happy hooker with a heart of gold' stock type to hold my interest. I suppose it is ironic that a man whose trade is in human bodies is in love with a woman who rents her body to people who consider it an inanimate object.

However, AFTER THE MOURNING is a fascinating story, both in terms of character development, of environment -- Nadel's greatest strength -- and of its subtle relevance to events and questions in contemporary Britain.

The mystery is tied up with the Battle of Cable Street -- the 300,000-plus non-violent demonstration of October 4 1936 that physically prevented British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley, MP, and his Black Shirts from marching through an East End Jewish immigrant neighbourhood, and may have destroyed Mosley's hopes of becoming Britain's first Fascist Prime Minister.

It is high time that writers started singing the unsung victories of the grassroots left; the ones that aren't commemorated with bank holidays, Hollywood films, or even theatre. Cable Street is a biggie, so I was delighted to see Nadel mention it, but thought that much, much more could have been made of the delicious opportunity.

So, how does Cable Street fit into Nadel's puzzle? Go get the book and find out. As for Francis Hancock, I hope that he survives the war, and that Nadel allows us to follow him to V-E and beyond.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, October 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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