I know Darkness Rising sounds like it could be a Batman movie but this novella is all about the mean and moody streets of Bradford as policed by super-anti-hero Detective Inspector Hardeep ‘Harry’ Virdee. Harry is a man who believes in his own distinctive brand of law enforcement, which may involve fitting up or slapping around bad guys at times. There are already four novels in this Bradford set series but rather than following on this is a step back in time to Harry’s early days as an Inspector. As Darkness Rising is an introduction to Harry Virdee it’s a great way to get acquainted with him for newcomers. On the other hand if you’re a fan of the novels you can still enjoy this jaunty light tale. For me this novella is now an integral part of one of the most exciting police procedural series anyone is writing today. Dhand delivers blistering action at a breakneck pace with style and strong storytelling. This is an quick read so the tale is pretty straightforward, a simple tale of drugs and murder but none the less it’s satisfying for the more experienced reader too.

Zac Choudary is enjoying his first kebab after four years inside. He’s watching a gathering of the new breed of Bradford drug barons flaunting their super cars, blonde babe girlfriends and flash watches right there in the street – not a policeman in sight. Zac was never at their level but before going down he had money and status, now’s he’s on welfare he wants to be one of these guys more than ever. He gets the call to go see the man in the shadows who promises Zac riches if he can take back control the streets, be the muscle for the west side gang. They’ve been hit by arrests lately and the east side gang have been making gains on their territory. The west side want to push back, a show of force to re-establish the natural order, that’s Zac’s job, put the fear back on the streets.

D.I. Harry Virdee is a Sikh, his wife, Saima, a Muslim, both sets of parents have disowned them, now they have a child of their own on the way. As a homicide detective in a city that seems to be disintegrating in poverty, crime and drugs Harry has to be tough to survive, he is:
“Damn city was dropping more bodies than anywhere else in the north of England.
Heroin was a problem. It flooded into the city. Everyone it touched was sentenced to a lifetime of misery or else death in the streets.”

A new body turns up, the second drug dealer shot and killed recently, needles in the eyes are some kind of calling card. Harry manages to find a witness who says it’s the work of a new enforcer, a guy just out of prison, Zac Choudary. If he’s not stopped a gang war will break out, more bodies will drop. As Harry begins to track Zac, an arrogant, brutal and cocky thug, he unwittingly puts himself and his family in the firing line. Zac offers to buy Harry but if he won’t be bought the threat is clear, he’ll have to put him out of commission another way. For his part, Harry won’t rest until Zac is back behind bars.

Darkness Rising is a face off between a psychopathic drug pusher and an unrelenting cop, who doesn’t believe the rules apply to him. Fast, nasty, realistic and dark, a perfect little storm.

Knowing Harry Virdee I still enjoyed getting to see his earlier self in this novella. All the themes and concerns for Bradford, it’s communities, crime and all too prevalent poverty that infuse the novels are here, as is a glimpse of Harry’s complex family background.

The Quick Reads initiative from The Reading Agency began in 2006 and has been financially supported by author JoJo Moyes since 2018. There are more than a 100 titles to date from renowned writers such as Ian Rankin, Andy McNab, Benjamin Zephaniah, Candice Carty-Williams and Anne Cleeve. The books in the series are designed to get people into reading, each costs one pound, they’re roughly novella length stories easily read even if you don’t have a lot to time to spare. These book just seems a great way to introduce a reader to fiction.

Darkness Rising is a perfect way into the Harry Virdee novels, which are more involved, more complex but still jammed with action and excitement. I’ve never picked up a quick read before, they aren’t aimed at me, I think these books are primarily for people new to fiction reading, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t rewarding for regular readers too. Dhand was not writing down, over simplifying or skimping on background in writing this book. Because it’s short the story is less complex but it’s a lot of fun and I can see how this novella would clue someone up on Harry Virdee. For my money Harry is one of the most exciting, fascinating, original detectives out there.

Paul Burke 5* (not a group read)

Darkness Rising by AA Dhand
9780552177092 Penguin Corgi Paperback February 2020