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By Danuta Reah
Crime Express/An imprint of Five Leaves Publications, 2011 (£ 4.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Amir Hamade slips quietly through the garbage-strewn streets, shivering in the frigid night air. He's looking for a place to sleep, and his best bet is the shelter at St. Barnabas. It is meant to be a safe haven for asylum seekers who are waiting for approval to stay in England, and his request has been turned down. He's slept in the streets before, but it's a dangerous thing to do. Some of the staff at St. Barnabas, however, have been known to bend the rules for him.
Out of the darkness a young Arab woman approaches and asks if he can help her find a place to stay. He realizes he knows her. Her name is Farah Jafari. He'd seen her at the Nadifa's House, a support center for destitute asylum seekers where he volunteered a few days a week. He asks her why she didn't ask the staff there for help, but she doesn't answer. She offers to have sex with him if he'll help her, but Amir is a devout Muslim, a kind and gentle man. It would be wrong to take advantage of her, so he reluctantly brings her with him to the shelter. Women aren't allowed there, but that rule has been bent before too.
When they arrive at the shelter, Farah panics and runs off into the night, taking his jacket with her. He tries to forget about her, but his conscious won't let him. He leaves his backpack with his friend Andre Mutombo and goes after her.
A tipsy young woman who'd stormed out of a bar after seeing her boyfriend with another woman stops in an alley to pee. A light shines out and she sees two people looking straight at her. The open eyes of the girl on the ground can no longer see her, or anything else.
DC Tina Barraclough has been seconded to the Serious Crimes Unit to work on a project set up to deal with the flood of asylum seekers. She's made a mess of her career, and she knows this is her last chance to redeem herself. When she arrives at her office, she's told that a young Somali girl has been murdered, and a suspect was in custody. He'd been seen standing over the girl's body, with blood on his hands. The girl is Farah Jafari. The man's name is Amir Hamade, and she is to interview him about the seemingly open and shut case. Tina is shocked to hear the suspect's name. He has been her most helpful informant on the project, always polite and respectful, and no way does she believe he's a killer. Her boss has similar doubts, but warns Tina to act in a professional manner despite her feelings.
Reah's novella presents an interesting and poignant look at the plight of the men and women who have fled horrific conditions in several Middle Eastern and African countries, seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Some are thugs and criminals, but many are like Amir and Farah. Some are granted asylum, but the process is long and complicated. Many who came hoping for a better life are treated poorly. Some are victimized by other refugees and by the locals, taking advantage of desperate people who don't know who to trust. There are no answers here, just sadness.
I have one quibble with the book. I want to know where the action is taking place at the very beginning. While I could tell by the spelling (centre) and terms used in the description that the book is probably set in England, it isn't until page 62 that the author mentions the South Yorkshire Police. That narrows it down, but which city? Reah lives in Sheffield, so that would be my guess. Those who've read the author's other books may know where her stories are set, but I haven't. Otherwise, this is a book worth reading, and I plan to read her other works.
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