City Of Tiny Lights, by Patrick Neate

An entertaining gumshoe asking serious questions
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The Independent Culture

As a result, Tommy (named thus due to Farzad's love of Tommy Cooper) approaches his caseloads of straying husbands and lost dogs armed mainly with the Turk, Benny, an HND in elementary deduction, the odd Churchill quotation, and an endless stock of cricket metaphors. Things get complicated when seemingly classy hooker Melody Chase drops 15 long ones on his desk to track down sexyrussian.co.uk, her missing, coked-up buddy who, it turns out, owes Melody much less than that.

Sums don't add up. Sexyrussian was last seen picking up an MP in Mayfair who subsequently got hammered, literally, in a south-London hotel. Tommy's bold investigative style soon acquaints him with the same hammer and the close attention of MI5.

Tommy's smooth London-Asian patter hails a terrific return to form for Neate, whose cracking first couple of novels introduced the feisty traveller Musungu Jim in well-spun African and American adventures. The London Pigeon Wars, his third offering, branched away from jaunty satire but mired Neate's snappy style in an esoteric narrative that felt more ponderous than funny. City of Tiny Lights recovers the chutzpah of Musungu Jim. Tommy's wise-cracking commentary and mockney argot is cool, slick and funny.

Following his mother's preventable death, Tommy's guilt-wracked wilderness years took in sniping in Afghanistan, a history that keeps MI5 suspicious of him. The case of the hammered MP veers drastically towards domestic terrorism, which endows the novel with an eerie feeling of prescience. Neate wraps Tommy's immigrant status and complex affiliations into an intelligent dénouement, mercifully free of sensationalism, which gains in gravity from the current threat of terrorism.

Tommy's attitude and affinities are wholly British but, along the way, Neate's tale throws out some hard, very topical questions about belonging, immigration, Britishness and prejudice - questions which, even assisted by Benny and Turk, Tommy Akhtar, private investigator, is hard-pressed to answer.

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