Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham

HQ | 2018 (5 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is early January and the start of the spring term at Mile End High School in East London. The school has a lot to deal with. A student has recently committed suicide. The teachers must try and bring the school together in its wake but today further tragedy will strike. Steve, a teacher on his very first day at the school, stumbles across, quite literally, the headteacher Linda Gibson, murdered. And by her side he finds a piece of card and on it is written the Buddhist precept ‘I shall abstain from taking the ungiven’.

DI Maya Rahman is given the case but it doesn’t prove easy. This mixed inner city community, which has the school at its heart, is troubled and divided, and prejudice is rife. Maya, reeling from the recent death of her beloved brother, and DS Dan Maguire, an Australian on a fast track to promotion but far from his family, have much to overcome but it isn’t long before one murder becomes two, accompanied by another Buddhist precept. And meanwhile the community and the media watch and they don’t miss a thing.

Turn a Blind Eye is Vicky Newham’s debut novel and her background as a psychologist and teacher in inner city London are used to great effect in this indepth and fascinating portrait of a community in trouble. We’re presented with people from a broad range of cultures, religions and backgrounds and some of them conflict. The school is vital in trying to bring everyone together but nowhere is the crisis more apparent than in the school. But if a murderer’s actions force it to close then it would send a devastating message. It’s imperative that this doesn’t happen.

Maya is a marvellous character, bridging cultures and extremely sensitive to them all. This is a crime novel but the author’s attention first and foremost is on its people, notably its detective, and what an unusual detective Maya is. Throughout the novel we’re given glimpses of Maya’s upbringing and the descriptions of her early years in one of London’s poorest boroughs, so soon after emigrating from Bangladesh, are an eye opener. The issues that Maya and her family faced still continue and Maya is determined to get to the bottom of what exactly is up with this school. Dan is another outsider, an Australian far from home and in the wrong time zone for communicating as regularly as he’d like with the family he loves. The relationship between Maya and Dan is one of the pleasures of the novel.

There are so many big themes and ideas on display in Turn a Blind Eye. It’s a rewarding read. There’s so much to learn about the different communities and with the issues that they face. Everyone in such a diverse part of London could be seen as an outsider of one sort or another but it’s this diversity that is also such a source of richness and local identity. If I have one issue it is that at times it feels as if there is a little too much explanation or background information. But Vicky Newham is an author with a great deal of story to tell and she most certainly knows her stuff.

Turn a Blind Eye is a strong debut, written with such warmth, empathy and care. Maya Rahman is a fantastic creation and I’m so glad to have met her. This is going to be a great series!

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