Yes, the time has indeed come, whether the walrus likes it or not, to tell the assembled masses (or mass, if you are but singular) about my new crime series. It’s called the Hakim and Arnold series and it’s set in the London Borough of Newham.
The first book in the series, ‘A Private Business’ will be published on 5th July by Quercus and, unusually for me, I’m excited. This is not to say that Çetin İkmen and the Turkish cohort will suddenly cease trading now I’ve got Hakim and Arnold, they will not. My latest İkmen book, a closed room mystery, will be published in January 2013 and there will be at least another book after that. But Hakim and Arnold take me home.
If I have learnt anything about living away from London it is this: I can’t live without it. When I lived in Cambridge, I wilted, now I live in a fabulous part of the Pennines, I just can’t cope. Nothing to do with either Cambridge or the Pennines, it’s just me. That said, this latest foray into pastures new has served to allow me to see London from a different perspective and view it with fresh eyes, for which I am very grateful.
But what is this new series about? Well, it’s set around Upton Park and focuses on the lives and careers of two private detectives; Lee Arnold and Mumtaz Hakim.
Lee is mid forties, an ex-soldier and ex-police officer. He is divorced and lives alone except for his pet mynah bird who he has indoctrinated to sing West Ham football songs. Handy in a fight and no nonsense, Lee nevertheless hides a past punctuated by family alcohol problems, a violent father, memories from the First Iraq War and addiction to pain killers. In order to overcome his addiction and briefly forget his problems, Lee cleans and tidies both his flat and his office to a fanatical degree. He is a risk taker and one of those risks is the woman who is his business partner, Mumtaz Hakim.
At 32, Mumtaz is very young to be widowed. Her late husband, Ahmet, and father of Mumtaz’s sixteen year old step-daughter, Shazia, was murdered less than a year before the series starts. And said husband left Mumtaz with nothing but debts. An educated woman, Mumtaz has a psychology degree and, when she is first widowed, she imagines that she will be able to get a job to support Shazia and their big house in Forest Gate easily. But it doesn’t happen. As a Muslim woman who covers her head, she is far too ‘Islamic’ for most white employers while for Muslim businesses, they generally see her as too liberal in her appearance and her views. Then she sees an advertisement for an administrative post in a private detectives office and Mumtaz and Lee come together. He takes a punt on her, she takes a risk with him and she ends up conducting her own investigations either alongside Lee or on her own. Mumtaz however hides a very unsavoury secret which I am not going to tell you about. Ah hah!
The sort of cases the Arnold agency get involved with include issues around infidelity, suspicion of stalking, investigations into people’s pasts and general surveillance. Of course, this being crime fiction, murders come into the equation at some point, which brings me to Lee’s old contact in the police, DI Violet Collins.
This woman is old school with a modern twist. She smokes like a trooper, drinks like a fish and swears like a sailor. She also likes to go on holiday to hot places and pick up men half her age (Vi is 54). Although she doesn’t like even that as much as she enjoys a damn good challenge which may be a case of murder, getting stuck in in a riot or tracking down a rapist. Vi will always be in the thick of any action that is going and she knows EVERYONE.
Many of the tensions within ‘A Private Business’, which will stretch across the whole series, come from the composition of Newham – both human and architectural – as well as its history and the many cultures that define its population. The borough is also host to the 2012 Olympics which has altered some parts of Newham almost out of recognition. Now, as well as being the most ethnically diverse urban area in Europe, Newham is also becoming a desirable place for people with money to live. And that is new and challenging for everyone.
So this is a big job I’ve taken on here, not just to write a new series, but to do justice to a place that is often misrepresented and which also happens to be my home. Wish me luck and I hope that everyone who reads it will enjoy doing so just as much as I enjoyed writing it.