I don’t read a lot of crime fiction just as I don’t watch much crime drama because it is always about murder. This annoys me as murder is a very infrequent crime, so the dramas are always very misleading about crime in society, and because they are not very sophisticated or interesting as they are always about murder.* Of course Agatha Christie, Morse, Endeavour, Foyle’s War (often filmed in Liverpool), occasional Taggart and Hot Fuzz are exceptions. I made an exception for Black Day at the Bosphorus Café for two reasons. Firstly because I liked the brightly colourful cover, second because the author is my old school friend Matthew Baylis. I’d bought and never quite read his first two books so thought I’d better read this one. And it helps traffic in my local library, the wonderful Sefton Park, a Carnegie on Aigburth Road in Liverpool. I then bought a copy. It is the best book involving crime, north London, and planning law I have read since former Python, Terry Jones’ Trouble on the Heath (an excellent ‘Quick Reads’).
Baylis’ hero, Rex Tracey (nice homage there?) is a Okocim Polish beer drinking (don’t try it) cynical local newspaper reporter who also solve crime. Set in the fictional borough of ‘Harringay and Tottenham’, amid the very real multicultural and frequently changing north London, the backdrop is the death of a Kurdish girl, Mina, and murky goings on at the Council. In step with the mid-2010’s the Council is run by a charismatic former Lib Dem lay preacher turned independent. The book is a bit hard on the Council (it makes the Mayor of Liverpool look like a good public image), illuminates Kurdish and Yazidi identity, puts thought into the atrocities of the partition of Cyprus in 1974 and implications for communities today, and gives real insight into the challenges for local journalism amid rapidly changing technological and consumer times. It does this while Baylis weaves a colourful picture of the districts covered by Tracey. I have three minor criticisms. A map would be useful for those of us who don’t know these parts of north London, the real Haringey and Tottenham. Some of the political narrative is a bit jammed in. And it will be nice if some of these characters that the author spends so much time introducing us to survive into the future novels. The ambitious young female Labour candidate, Eve Reilly, perhaps or the now disgraced Council leader. Of the nicer characters, at least the local paper’s art reviewer Lawrence isn’t killed off. He’s quite like the old Daily Post arts reviewer.
* It is ironic, because as a Lecturer in Criminal Law we always teach the law largely through the rules about murder – because they are the most serious cases, the leading authorities and just a lot more interesting than the actual real crime, minor theft, assault, sex and criminal damage. Despite being a liberal cosmopolitan to his bones, Matt is tv critic for the Daily Express. This has often made me ponder the question posed by Professor Clive Walker in an article on directing terrorist organisations that I assisted him with “Does the IRA’s cleaning lady direct the cleaning for the IRA and therefore is she guilty of directing a terrorist organisation?” The answer is not clear. When I occasionally see his columns they are not overtly political, but maybe like Al Murray he subverts prejudice and intolerance (ignorance / fear of difference) through intellect and humour.