By Death Divided – Patricia Hall (2008)

Laura Ackroyd is drawn into a case of domestic violence when her friend
Vicki takes in a woman, Julie Holden, and her daughter Anna, fleeing from
her abusive husband Bruce. Meanwhile DC Mohammed Sharif is worried about his
cousin Faria who has not been heard from by her family for some time and who’s husband Imran, a much older man, is also curiously unavailable. When Faria’s body turns up in a river DCI Michael Thackeray is forced to insist that Sharif plays no part in the investigation because of his personal links to the case. But Sharif cannot let it go and is vividly aware of the way in
which his ties to his community and to his job are pulling him apart.

I am a long-term fan and supporter of Hall’s work and no doubt repeat myself in my reviews. In fact I have recently read her 2009 book – Devil’s Game – and reviewed it for rte where my comments should turn up sometime in the next couple of months. By Death Divided is better than Devil’s Game but is still not, in my view, as good as her best work. This is a bit odd given that in this book the social issues she examines – domestic violence, women’s position within the Muslim community, Muslim radicalisation, anti-terror activities – are fascinating and the Faria Aziz story at least is well-plotted. Much the best parts of this book are those concerned with Mohammed Sharif and his divided loyalties ; the problems of attempting to live in two worlds simultaneously. Apart from the intrinsic merits of the story this also has the highly beneficial effect of taking the focus away from the ever-troubled relationship of Ackroyd and Thackeray. This has now dragged on far too long and there were times in this book when I just felt like shouting ‘oh get over yourselves’ at the pair of them. Admittedly this is not a reaction which would be felt by anyone who has not been reading every book in the series!

But even in terms of the themes I felt some of Hall’s characteristic
sureness of touch was missing. The domestic violence story was well handled as one would expect, but on the subject of Muslim radicalisation she did not seem to have very much new or vital to say. Perhaps this is an unfair
expectation. And the book had pace, bite, interest. It was just that in
comparison to her best work some of the anger, some of the passion, some of the sociological analysis seemed a bit lacking.

As I say I am a long-time fan and admirer of Hall so my hope is that she can
get back to her best. The introduction of Sharif as another protagonist is
certainly a help and should be continued. By Death Divided is a very decent
mystery – it is just that by the light of Hall’s best work there is still
too much missing.

(April 2009)