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Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham review – the body count mounts in Mile End

Our reviewer Tabitha Potts casts her eyes over Vicky Newham’s debut murder mystery Turn a Blind Eye, twisting and turning through a Mile End school, the London Buddhist Centre and Tredegar Square.

This gritty crime novel set in East London opens in a mosque in Sylhet where Detective Inspector Maya Rahman is mourning her brother Sabbir. It’s a striking scene which sets the tone for this story set within the heart of the multicultural community of Tower Hamlets. 

When she returns to London, Maya’s compassionate leave ends abruptly when a popular  headteacher, Linda Gibson, is found dead at Maya’s old secondary school in Mile End. The murder happened during a staff meeting and several of the staff become suspects. The dead woman was strangled, her hands were bound and a Buddhist text, I shall abstain from taking the ungiven, found next to her body. 

Maya starts to chip away at the perfect facade presented by the dead woman and her school. Why was software used to erase documents kept on the school computer? What was the significance of the recent suicide of one of the female students? Someone at the school had something to hide – but who was it? And who was paying money into Gibson’s secret bank account?

The story takes the reader on a wild ride through some intriguing corners of East London, from a scene where the shocked school staff order drinks in the Morgan Arms to another at the London Buddhist Centre. The reader is given glimpses of characters’ lives as the narrative moves from the victim’s grand home in Tredegar Square to the tiny flat where Maya grew up on Brick Lane. 

Maya is a vivid and interesting central character, and her colleague, the Australian Detective Sergeant Dan Maguire, makes a good foil. Maya faces disapproval from some within the Bangladeshi community for her unconventional lifestyle (she is unmarried and has a non-Muslim boyfriend) and racism outside it.

As well as these pressures she has an unsympathetic DCI and faces constant press scrutiny as she tries to do her job. The writer is a psychologist by training and it really shows in the detailed characterisation. 

The body count mounts up and the community is thrown into turmoil as Maya’s investigation progresses and we learn more about Gibson’s tragic past. The story twists and turns breathlessly as more suspects emerge from the shadows and will keep the reader guessing to the end.

This is a great debut crime novel and the first of a series of books set in Tower Hamlets – which the author clearly knows very well – so will be a must for all local thriller fans. 

If you enjoyed this, read Tabitha Potts’ review of ‘Krays: The Final Word’ by James Morton.

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