I first read about Eva Dolan’s debut on various crime fiction blogs and it appealed to me straight away for a couple of reasons. Firstly I do like getting in at the ground floor of a new series of crime books. For me, being a musical snob of the highest order it’s rather like getting into a band before they make it big and then being able to gloat that I was there when they started out.*
There is pleasure for me in reading through the previous entries of an established set of books but I love the gamble of getting the first one in a series on the day it came out, finding out whether or not the book you have in your hand will be one of those books – one of those where the characters are well written, the protagonist’s back story isn’t too contrived or just plain ridiculous or one that basically I’ve read before in work by other authors. One of those books where it all pays off, the story doesn’t let up and I have to stay awake until the early hours reading chapter after chapter. I ignore my wife, my children, everything other than the book.
If that gamble pays off then the author has a fan for life.**
Secondly I like books set in what might be perceived as usual places. I’ve read a fair number of books set in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester etc, etc and I will do again, I know I will and I’m not for one minute knocking them but there is something to be said for books set in less well known places and as soon as I read that Eva Dolan’s book was set in Peterborough then I knew that I had to read it. I’ve never been there, have no plans to do so in the immediate future and like many people for years thought it was somewhere in the North West just outside of Manchester and not in Cambridgeshire – the place fascinates me and I’ll be honest, I can’t explain why.
Long Way Home startswith the burning to death of a man who has been sleeping in a shed in a couple’s back garden who they had been too afraid to confront and it is this that leads DI Zigic and DS Ferreira to suspect them. Did they burn the man to death to get him out? Did they pay a convicted arsonist just out of prison to do it? Why are they acting as though they have something to hide? The victim is also a member of the immigrant community which leads the detectives into the lives of the immigrant population in Peterborough and for me it is this aspect that makes Dolan’s book both fascinating and unique.
The murder mystery is an excellent one which keeps you guessing right up until the moment of resolution and when things become clear it doesn’t feel forced, is rational and it’s desperately sad but not as sad or as moving as the plight of those immigrants featured in the story. Long Way Home asks us to examine the thing that we all know but which for the most part we as a population choose to ignore and that’s how the unseen things that we rely on get to happen and who ensure that the nice bag of ‘fresh and crisp’ salad gets to our dinner table. Dolan takes us to the hovels that immigrants live in, we meet the people who exploit and terrorise them, we learn about the victims of trafficking and it isn’t a world that we want to be in or to read about but Dolan makes it so compelling that I couldn’t take me eyes of the page and to my surprise I began to care about the people who Dolan writes about and who came to this country looking to make their fortunes but who have ended up trapped with no end in sight to their torment.
Dolan asks us to question if would we rather believe the moral panic of the right wing press and think that people from Poland get off the bus in the UK and are chauffeur driven by the council to beautiful purpose built accommodation and slide into jobs with five figure salaries that should have gone to a good honest tax paying British citizen. Or is the reality that for a lot of people coming to the UK they aren’t taking ‘our’ jobs but are doing the jobs that we don’t want to do, doing them for pay that we wouldn’t accept and living in conditions that beggar belief? Dolan explores this side of immigration and does it without an agenda and without preaching to her readers.
Dolan writes convincingly about how immigration effects all aspects of our community, the people who already lived in Peterborough and see themselves as members of what they believe to be the indigenous UK population, the agencies that deal with the effects, the immigrants themselves and how their lives are lived not knowing from day to day what tomorrow will bring, women are abused until breaking point and who find themselves in the position of wanting to return home but being unable to do so.
Perhaps most fascinatingly of all for me though were the stories of DI Zigic and DS Ferreira- who are third and second generation Serbian and Portuguese respectively – and the actions, viewpoints and effects of the influx of people to Peterborough on them: “No but where are you really from?” is a question that they are asked. These are people who whilst not rejecting their heritage also see themselves as being British and the self analysis and moral dilemmas that this entails is something that I’d like to see Dolan exploring further in her future books..
Eva Dolan has written not only an absorbing and convincing thriller that has enough twists and turns to throw you off the scent and keep you reading until the end but this is also an important book that gives the reader an insight into a world that either through choice or naivety we have chosen to ignore.
It’s not often that a thriller can move me as well as excite me but this did and it did so without being sentimental. Long Way Home is very highly recommended.
* Not that I ever indulge in this kind of behaviour
** Or at least until they write that difficult eleventh novel where the lead character single handedly stops a nuclear power station from going into meltdown.