Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of critically acclaimed British/Sudanese writer, Jamal Majoub. Although born in Britain, he spent his childhood in Khartoum, in the Sudan. Majoub's writing reflects his experiences, covering subjects as diverse as Sudan's history and strife, and explorations of identity. He began writing crime fiction as Parker Bilal in 2012, and The Divinities is the first novel in his Crane and Drake London detective series.
Two bodies are discovered brutally murdered at Magnolia Quays, a development tucked into a bend in the Thames near Battersea. Detective Sergeant Cal Drake is the first on the scene and realises this is his chance to repair his reputation, seemingly irreparably damaged after an undercover operation almost ended his career in the Violent Crimes Unit.
The victims, a man and a woman, have been buried alive by a rockfall. "The man looked as though he was toiling at sea, caught in a wave, trying to rise up, to get free. But he wasn't going anywhere." When they are identified as the wife of the developer of Magnolia Quays and a famous Japanese mountaineer and environmentalist, Tei Hideo, Drake is told he has 48 hours to solve the crime before it will be transferred to the Violent Crimes Unit.
Drake, who is ex-military and has served in Iraq, suspects the murderer is following Sharia law, stoning his victims to death. As a result, the Division Superintendent recommends he work with forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler, Doctor Rayhana Crane. Drake's first impression of Crane is that she has some Persian parentage and has learnt that "good looks could draw the wrong kind of attention, especially if you were trying to get them to take you seriously". Bilal reveals the backstories of his two detectives as their investigation proceeds. Neither is what they first appear and their unusual backgrounds lead them eventually to both the motive and the murderer in a dramatic career changing confrontation. The Divinities is far more than a crime novel, rather a complex exploration of identity in a post 9/11 London where capitalism exploits the vulnerable, poverty breeds religious fundamentalism and racism is rife.
The city has progressed from a cultural melting pot to "an enclave of the world at large, the Middle East and beyond", in which "music blared from kebab shops, call centres and supermarkets, alongside a tide of tourist crap; the model red phone boxes, pillar boxes, policeman's helmets. A miniature parody of that distant country that was once England".
It's as if Bilal's London is also searching for an identity.
- Anna Creer is a Canberra reviewer.