A Dark Redemption, by Stav Sherez
A Dark Redemption is the third novel from music journo Stav Sherez, and marks the beginning of a promising new series. The heroes of the piece are a male/female pairing, DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller, and we meet them for the first time as they investigate a particularly hideous crime; the murder of a Ugandan-born student. As could be expected from the start of any crime series, this case takes on deep personal overtones for both detectives, forcing Miller to face her future, and Carrigan to face his past.
From the outset, A Dark Redemption establishes itself as a gem. Carrigan is introduced as a younger man, a promising musician taking a post-university break in Africa with friends. Though the descriptions of the environment are rich and vital, there is a lingering sense of dread, created with clever linguistic flourishes and by a portentous act of brutality.
From a sun-drenched but disquieting prologue, Sherez is on to the present day, and introducing us to the Carrigan of the modern era. He is troubled emotionally and professionally, worn down by the weight of his past and by the mistrust of his peers. He is a dark crusader, an intense figure contrasted with the shallow, locker-room machismo of rank and file colleagues. If this sets cliché alarms ringing, it needn’t. While Carrigan is undoubtedly cut from the same cloth as any number of other fictional detectives, Sherez’s writing elevates him above a great deal of them. Carrigan is a darker, more jaded, but ultimately a more cultivated character than most. While the key facets of his character are not necessarily new, the craftsmanship employed in their depiction is rare indeed.
The same could be said of Carrigan’s London. Warehouses could be filled with all the crime books and films set in London, but still Sherez manages to put an original slant on the nation’s capital. A Dark Redemption takes a turn down a narrow alley and introduces us to a London filled with diasporic communities and an invisible underclass of illegal immigrants.
There is enormous cultural sensitivity on show, but without Sherez leaving himself open to accusations of liberal tub-thumping. Dead-eyed former child soldiers stalking the streets of London sounds like something from a Daily Mail reader’s nightmare, but Sherez tackles the matter in all its bloodiness, brutality and complexity. This is powerful political and social commentary, scalding the search for simple, all-too-often violent solutions to Africa’s problems.
The crime is not incidental, however, and Sherez includes technical details which are abundant without ever being obtrusive. He dances deftly along the tightrope between well-grounded procedural and artistic storytelling.
Despite the sumptuous writing though, the violence in A Dark Redemption does merit a warning for the squeamish. Without the cultural context provided by the later stages of the novel, the original murder seems gratuitous, possibly written in a quest for shock value. Fortunately, in the final analysis the shock value of A Dark Redemption comes not from bloodlust, but in the cold, hard and distressing facts it draws upon for inspiration.
Overall, A Dark Redemption is a well-crafted novel, with engaging characters, urgent subject matter and a firm basis in reality. If this foundation stone is anything to go by, expect great things from the Carrigan and Miller series.