A Killing Sin is an intriguing and entertaining debut, full of promise. The novel is shot through with original ideas and, even thought the topic is well worn, this is an interesting take on the way Britain could be heading. This is a vision of near future London and Irvine creates a dystopia that is unsettling and plausible. The premise is straightforward; what if the racial and religious tensions that divide Britain widens? Ghettoization and a reactionary authoritarian response could become the norm. In A Killing Sin citizens are under constant surveillance by the government.

There are a small number of Muslim Sharia communities around the country, the one in Tower Hamlets is at the heart of the story. A Killing Sin opens with a woman contemplating her future, or lack there of, she knows this is her last hour, she remembers her friends and better times. A count down is a key element of the plot.

Ten days earlier Ella, Millie and Neil are at the Comedy Café for Amala Hackeem’s latest gig. Whether the crowd will accept Amala, a Muslim, and go with her jokes is always a worry for her friends. They do, they laugh, but after her performance a man walks up to Amala, accuses her of blasphemy and spits on her. It happens quickly, but when he punches her, Millie jumps in and the attacker runs off. Amala is actually a businesswoman, she and Neil set up the Rockeem Foundation and Ezylocate is one of their proudest achievements. Its a tracker designed for locating missing children. The problem is, it’s now being used by the government to track the movements of ordinary citizens. It’s not what Amala and Neil intended, they want to raise that with PM Simon Thompson.

In the meantime Amala meets her brother Aafa. He’s late but he was picked up again last night by the police and taken to a Prevent and Protect Centre. These were set up the state and are run by ex-squaddies (some of whom had pals who died in Afghanistan and Iraq). Aafa was interrogated before being released and now he thinks he’s being followed. He is angry with Amala for her Western ways and her abuse of their religion, he seems to be radicalising. She makes it clear she won’t be wearing a burqa to please him anytime soon. They make peace and he invites her to the education centre in Tower Hamlets to meet some women. What harm can it do? Amala thinks, so she agrees, she loves her little brother.

Ella is a journalist, she is writing two stories; one on women and radicalisation and another on arms and the multi-agency task force ATF-50. She asks Millie for help, her investigation uncover some uncomfortable truths. Millie is advising the government on security matters. She is in Downing Street with the PM and the Home Secretary, Jean Norton, when the news of a high profile kidnapping breaks. Her friend Amala has gone to Tower Hamlets and has been taken hostage. The terrorists are demanding £100M for her release. The real motives, the real bad guys are disguised, this is a three-dimensional view of radicalisation, terrorism and the state response. The terrorists are bad, of course, but their motives are complex, the government actions are also morally dubious and innocent people get caught in the middle. The plot twists and turns like a cork screw with much more than money on the line.

Although I think the plot, the three friends from college, high achievers, coming at this story from three connecting angles, is a little too coincidental and incestuous its still a good read. It’s easy to forget that and get caught up in the story. I think the follow-up novel featuring the rise of the far right and growing unrest could be very interesting.

Exciting and pacy, and enough meat to make you think.

Paul Burke 3/4

A Killing Sin by K.H. Irvine
Urbane Publications 9781912666447 pbk Jul 2019