Girl Zero

Written by A.A. Dhand

Review written by Bob Cartwright

Girl Zero
Bantam Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: July 13, 2017

Harry Virdee is a Sikh Detective Inspector in Bradford’s pressured police force. Dhand’s Bradford is a city ever on a short fuse, and Virdee operates on an even shorter one. In that respect Harry is quite at home in the city he was brought up in, and now lives in with wife Saima and young son Aaron.

But Harry’s situation is far from a multicultural panacea. Since marrying Saima, the Islamic hospital nurse he fell in love with, Harry has been made a pariah by his conservative Sikh family. Ironically, his only contact with his family is through older brother Ronnie who just happens to be the city’s largest drug dealer. It is an unholy alliance in more ways than one. Ronnie informs on the city rogues when it suits him, enabling Harry to maintain an unequalled record of crime detection. In return, Harry is expected to forewarn Ronnie if the police threaten his brother’s drug empire.

The compromise works until Ronnie eldest daughter, and Harry’s favourite niece, Tara is murdered. Harry wants to lead the investigation but is denied due to his close relationship with the victim. The disgruntled Harry starts his own independent investigation, hoping that his apprehension of the murderer can lead to a reconciliation with his family. But Harry also agrees to keep his brother in the loop and curb Ronnie’s savage desire for revenge.

Tara’s background offers a variety of clues to her murder. She has become estranged from her father after discovering the real source of his wealth. That conflict is intensified when he learns she is visiting a gay club.  While on an internship at the city newspaper Tara has also become interested in the murder and disappearance of a number of single young mothers and their daughters. She suspects there is a ring in the city abducting the mothers in order to sell their daughters to wealthy paedophiles. That suspicion is heightened when she makes contact with Sarah, a young girl who was herself bought and abused when her mother was groomed and turned on to heroin.

While Harry, Ronnie and Sarah each have their different reasons to find Tara’s killer, they agree to bury those differences and work together. However, tracking down the murderer soon becomes a case of exposing the people behind the grooming circle and the wealthy and powerful people who have the money to indulge their perverse taste for young girls.

It is a raw storyline which rarely resorts to rose-tinted glasses or kid gloves. Yet it is a story combining bold and dramatic imagery with a strong humanitarian undertone. No one will claim that this is a narrative restricted to Bradford. The complex of issues Dhand exposes can arise in any of our depressed and disowned inner cities.

Sarah Hughes, in a very perceptive take on A A Dhand’s debut Streets of Darkness in the Guardian last year, likened it to the immortal TV series The Wire. The publication of this follow up makes comparisons with David Simon’s Baltimore series even more justified. A TV series was already on the cards with the first book and as the second prepares to fly off the shelves I can’t wait to see whether the small screen will do them justice. I very much hope so as the source material is some of the best I have read in years.

Set against the Bradford skyline of derelict mills and impoverished housing however, Dhand has given the issues a potency of their own, albeit one harking back to Simon’s love-hate relationship with Baltimore. But for full impact kick start Girl Zero with a crash reading of Streets of Darkness. You won’t be at all disappointed.


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