Review: Poisoned Ground by Barbara Nadel (5/5)

Monday 15 September 2014
Ex-soldier Lee Arnold and his Muslim assistant Mumtaz Hakim run a detective agency in London's ethnically diverse, crime-ridden East End.

Mumtaz is approached by an Egyptian woman, Salwa, whose husband is in Belmarsh on terrorism charges.

Salwa convinces Mumtaz of her husband's innocence and persuades her to go undercover to prove it. But Salwa is not what she seems.

Trapped in an old tunnel that leads to the London docks, will Mumtaz escape with her life?

Having only recently read my first Barbara Nadel novel (Body Count), I was very excited to read Poisoned Ground given that it is set not only in London, which I love but the East End which I know well and is where I stay when I'm in London. Nadel has captured the setting of the East End better than any novel I've read in that setting for a long time. It felt like I was part of the book and I had no trouble picturing the majority of places described which always makes a book more enjoyable for me. Some of the book is set in Southend which I've never visited yet again was brought to life on the page. As with all good authors Nadel writes about what she knows, bringing knowledge and a feeling of authenticity that you don't get with people that write about stuff they don't know.

Poisoned Ground is the third book in this series yet it took me only pages to warm to the characters of Lee Arnold and Mumtaz Hakim and I never felt like a stranger looking in on their world. Nadel has done a fantastic job of continuing their story for returning readers yet introducing them to new readers without recapping too much of the previous books plots. Both are likeable characters not without their faults and they are definitely unique which in this genre of fiction can often be a difficult thing to achieve. I also particularly like books where a PI is the main character, they often end up working alongside or for the law but at the same time they can operate outside of it too. They also seem to find their lives in danger more than the police, which is definitely the case here.

As always to discuss the plot further than the blurb would ruin the story but there are two main threads to the book. Lee Arnold is on the lookout for a missing man which takes him to Southend to spy on the man's father. His investigation leads him to his girlfriend's casino where he finds himself in a bit of a sticky situation shall we say... I especially like missing persons cases as they get your brain working trying to piece everything together and you never know just who to trust so you find yourself second guessing everybody that you meet. Mumtaz meanwhile is approached by an Egyptian woman, Salwa, who wants help proving that her husband, behind bars on terrorism charges is innocent. Mumtaz goes undercover in a local hospital to gather potential evidence against the doctor that set Salwa's husband up. Salwa at first comes across as pretty innocent but we see her at home where she lives very religiously and she's quite hostile and aggressive to her daughter and at times threatening. For me it was hard to feel any sympathy for Salwa given her attitude. Again though this is Nadel writing what she knows and that is really evident whilst reading.

Despite all that's being thrown at them Lee and Mumtaz are both facing issues in their personal lives. Mumtaz especially is having a hard time of it given that she still owes money to the man that murdered her husband who is being increasingly threatening towards her. Normally not 'knowing' the characters given this is my first time reading about them I wouldn't ordinarily feel the emotional connection you get with characters you've followed for a couple of books but such is the talent of Nadel to create likeable and believable characters, I really felt Mumtaz's pain and was really rooting for her to overcome what she was facing. Lee is having relationship trouble and work trouble and again for me was a very likeable character. I particularly liked the character of Vi who is a police officer and friend of Lee's. Followers of Barbara on Twitter will recognise a certain operation Vi has during the book on her neck. (Sorry Barbara but that picture still freaks me out!)

I was wondering whether the two cases being worked on were separate or whether they would somehow turn out to be related. Either way both had me gripped and jumping between the two of them helped to break it up rather than have the whole thing feeling rushed. It's definitely a book that keeps you guessing and gripped to the book. It's a read in a few sittings book as you won't want to put it down. I can't really say why for fear of ruining the story but Underground London is something I especially love, the tunnels running beneath the city have long been a fascination of mine so I was particularly gripped for the latter half of the book when Mumtaz finds.... oops just read and find out!

Ultimately the book has left me wanting to read the earlier books in this series ASAP and hoping that the wait for more isn't too long. There's no shortage of crime fiction set in London yet it's not often it's of a standard as high as this. Definitely not one to miss and comes very highly recommended by me.

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