Generally, the British police procedural is in good health, it’s got it’s mojo back after a period in the doldrums, now it’s topical and relevant again. Even so there are a couple of writers pushing things a little bit further, tearing up the rule book and creating something more dynamic – darker and edgier. Delving deep into society’s malaise creating an atmosphere of tension and that feeling of staring into the abyss. Dhand is at the forefront of that dynamism, wringing the most out of Harry Virdee’s stories by going hard on the twists and maintaining a break neck pace while managing to confront important issues, One Way Out is an exhilarating read.

Anyone familiar with the life and times of Harry Virdee will know he’s used to living life on the edge, he’s a copper who plays it fast and loose. Just as he’s trying to settle down a bit he gets catapulted into a whole new ball game, the stakes are higher than ever. This breathless thriller leaves you wondering where Dhand can go next because everything is ramped up to eleven already. No spoilers but there are a couple of big moments here for Harry – personally and professionally.

DCI Harry Virdee hunts down a radical Islamist group for Tariq Islam, Britain’s first Muslim Home Secretary, an ambitious and ruthless man. If Harry gets his hands on Almukhtaroon’s leaders he may be forced to hand them over to a bunch of right wing terrorists planning to kill them. It may be the only way to avoid a blood bath.

Thousands of ordinary Muslims worshippers are trapped at Friday prayers across Bradford. A group calling themselves ‘the Patriots’ have planted a bomb in one of the city’s mosques. You might think this is the work of madmen, and it may be, but they have already proven they have the capability to set off a devastating explosion, only a warning avoided mass casualties in City Park earlier in the day. Innocent people will be slaughtered unless their demands for the leaders of Almukhtaroon to be handed over are met.

Harry Virdee’s Bradford is a volatile city, there are divisions and tensions between the ethnic groups and social deprivation plays into that too. Harry own dysfunctional family background illustrates the religious divisions and is a fascinating aspect of the novels. On top of that, his brother is the city’s no.1 gangster. In a powerful opening, not to be forgotten, One Way Out, sees a bomb go off in City Park as families, mingling and melting in the 30°C+ heat only moments before, flee in panic:

“Bradford is now under siege.”

Harry Virdee is with his mother and son in the park, it’s a precious time because a family dispute kept them apart for years. Aaron is happily playing as Joyti gently chides Harry. Saima, his wife, is at Friday prayers at the mosque. Harry ignores his phone ringing so it’s the helicopters that first alert him to the fact that something is very wrong. The big entertainment screen then flashes a message: “Imminent security threat…” Harry’s boss confirms it’s a bomb, they have twenty minutes to clear the park. Harry, Aaron and his mother run for safety, they manage to get into the cellar of the Bradford Club before the explosion rocks the city centre. By the time Harry re-emerges the streets are black with smoke. He tries to contact Saima but there’s no phone connection.

The city mosques were all locked down to keep people safe from the explosion but now Saima and thousands of others are trapped. A message from the bombers says that one of the city mosques is wired with a similar device, if anyone leaves before their demands are met it will go off. Things are set to get a lot more complicated. Harry knows Saima is in danger but he is faced with making a terrifying decision – sacrifice four radicals, none convicted by law, or watch innocent people die. Who knows what kind of blood bath might follow. Twists and shocks aplenty ensue.

This is a great series and One Way Out maintains the high standard Dhand has set. It’s so thrilling because the action never lets up and because Harry Virdee is a character with a unique background who does things his own way. If the action isn’t enough, these books are a damning social critique; they demonstrate the fear, misplaced anger, racism, prejudice, and mistrust among the communities, that is such a blight on our society. But they also show our humanity, our better side in a tough spot.

One Way Out is set over one day, the ticking clock gives an edge, and credibility, to the story. The on-going theme of reconciliation in the Virdee family is a contrast to the action but also explores the issues at the heart of the story from a different perspective (belonging, family, community). Saima is involved directly in this case which gives it even more edge. The novel is about terrorism but, refreshingly, it doesn’t stereotype Muslim terrorism. It highlights a couple of growing and over looked problem in society, right wing, white supremacist, extremism and the abuse of political power. Although the organisations and extremists are fictional the novel has a feel of authenticity about it, a scary plausibility.

There’s a final kicker here that will leave you desperate for the next Harry Virdee novel, Harry rocks.

Paul Burke 5/5

One Way Out by A.A. Dhand
Bantam Press 9781787631755 hbk Jun 2019