PART OF THE Icons ISSUE
‘Soma is skillful in her revelations, carefully drawing back the many veils that shroud family life and religious pride and prejudice, so that her characters are utterly believable.’
Murder at the Mela
By Leela Soma
Published by Ringwood Publishing
The word mela originates in Sanskrit means a gathering or assembly of people. Since its conception in 1990, the Glasgow Mela has taken this many steps further, evolving into an outdoor multicultural spectacular, one of the largest in the country. The Mela instantly conjures up images of music, dance, arts and food from Glasgow’s varied communities, celebrating their shared diversity.
Into this heady mix, Leela Soma throws in a murder at the mela. A young Asian woman, Nadia, is found dead on the closing night of the famous event, in Kelvingrove Park. Detective Inspector Alok Patel is not just newly appointed, but is also Glasgow’s first Asian DI. A rising star in the force, he is now under pressure to solve this murder quickly. Was the homicide a crime of passion, or was it racially motivated? There is talk of it being an honour killing. There are multiple suspects and very little to go on.
The investigation begins to uproot the barely buried tensions within Glasgow’s Asian communities and Patel must navigate all of it while coping with the professional jealousy of an overtly racist colleague. Adding to his problems is a deception of his own making – DI Patel is in a relationship with his colleague, Usma, a Muslim policewoman and all evidence must be kept from his disapproving Hindu parents.
Yes, Leela Soma’s third novel is a welcome addition to Tartan Noir. However, this book is far more than a police procedural crime novel. Sitting in the passenger seat of the police car alongside Patel, you get to read the very heart and soul of what divides and unites the Asian community in Scotland: the Hindu-Muslim rift that goes back decades, its roots in the partition of the subcontinent, the anxiety in the Muslim community about their young people getting radicalised, the personal angst of those drawn to strict religious tenets having to square up with what a youthful modern society has to offer. Soma’s characters, including the murder victim, confront the challenge of being Scot Asian today, charting their own destinies while trying to conform – to parental expectations and dreams, to norms laid down by gossiping aunties and interfering uncles. Soma is skillful in her revelations, carefully drawing back the many veils that shroud family life and religious pride and prejudice, so that her characters are utterly believable.
Soma moved from India to Glasgow in 1969. She was a Principal Teacher in Modern Studies and has made a name for herself as an award-winning poet and novelist, appointed Scriever 2021 for the Federation of Writers Scotland. Soma’s teacher’s touch is evident in her meticulous research of police procedures which keeps the investigative narrative moving briskly. DI Patel’s unit reflects life itself – police officers are no different from the citizens they are meant to keep safe – bitter, self-pitying DS Alan Brown, DI Joe grieving his young wife Lucy and Usma trying to reorganise her career so so she can ‘settle down’.
Soma’s love for Glasgow really shines through, her dual Indo-Scot heritage giving her a unique perspective into the lives of the Asian Scot community, as well as the urgent social issues that face Glaswegians of every colour. Interspersed with this well plotted whodunnit is a very truthful account of poverty in the post-war social housing schemes. Poverty that spawned Big Mo and Gazza in Drumchapel, who have no chance of escaping the ‘living aff the burro, man lifestyle’ and who are portrayed with the same wonderful compassion with which Soma details the life and loves of Hanif, a young medical student teetering on the precipice of being radicalised.
There are several suspects and Soma keeps the reader guessing – and when a second murder takes place DI Patel is give a rollicking by his superior. And with the uncanny bad timing that desi mothers are wont to have, DI Patel’s mother gives him a earful too – Usma, being Muslim, has to go!
Soma’s Murder at the Mela is a breakthrough book – the first Tartan Noir with an Asian DI, written in a very cinematic style with made-for-TV characters and a cliffhanger of a twist at the end – perfect for a season finale! Watch the listings as DI Patel is here to stay.
Murder at the Mela by Leela Soma is published by Ringwood Publishing, priced £8.99.
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