LONG WAY HOME is one of those crime novels that should be pressed eagerly upon snobs who think only ‘real literature’ can address topical issues of the day with intelligence and insight. Because although its backbone is a police procedural story, the real meat is its exploration of our modern world’s ability to treat entire populations as though they are virtually invisible.
After a prologue in which a man is running for his life the main story opens with police being called to the scene of a small fire in Peterborough, a mid-size UK town where lots of people are doing it tough following the global financial crisis. Someone’s back yard shed has burned down and a charred body is discovered. They soon learn that there was a man – an Eastern European migrant worker – who had been dossing down in the shed, much to the aggravation of the home’s owners. Did the Barlow’s torch their own shed to get rid of the man? Or does this case connect to the area’s wider issues concerning migrant workers?
Due to the nature of the case it is being handled by the town’s small Hate Crimes Unit which is headed by DI Zigic, a second generation immigrant. He and his sergeant, Ferreira who migrated with her family to the UK from Portugal when she was seven, have minimal support from their colleagues in the more traditional parts of the police force. But despite this and the troubles they have in getting people from the local immigrant communities to talk to them they do uncover some truly shocking activities going on in their town.
The story than unfolds will knock your socks off. Partly because of its bare brutality and partly because of its credibility. Even before I had read the author’s account of what led to her writing the book I never for a moment considered that what was being depicted here – the systematic abuse of migrant workers – was entirely made up. It had too much truthiness about it. Dolan depicts a world in which the value of a human life – of some human lives anyway – can be practically zero in the ‘right’ circumstances. It is chillingly depressing.
The characterisations were a bit sparse but basically sound with DI Zigic being, for me, the more interesting of the two detectives. I thought DS Ferreira had a bit too big a chip on her shoulder to be really engaging. She gave the impression that everyone she met who wasn’t a migrant was a racist and that grated after a while. But Zigic seems more well-rounded, even though he does grapple with direct racism from his wife’s family.
While I liked what was in the book I was a bit disappointed by what wasn’t there, though I do acknowledge that I should only be reviewing the book that exists not the book I wish existed. But even so the book basically sidesteps entirely the complex social and economic issues that exist in these kinds of communities; those where people already on the fringes are desperate for someone to blame for their grim circumstances. It’s not as simple as everyone being a racist. Surely. And given that I’m really uncomfortable with the modern notion of hate crimes (punishing people for their thoughts was abhorrent to me when I read 1984 and it’s abhorrent to me now) I would have enjoyed seeing the novel explore some of the nuances of the issue of the existence of the Hate Crimes Unit rather than just imply that anyone opposed to it was probably a racist.
Overall though LONG WAY HOME is a great debut novel that could easily appeal to those who generally shun crime genre fiction. It is a very modern story that sings with credibility and does – or should – make us each consider what is going on out of sight in our respective communities. And ponder what we would do about it if we did discover such goings on.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Harvill Secker 
Length 392 pages
Book Series #1 in the Zigic and Ferreira series
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Bernadette – I’ve heard lots of good things about this one, actually, and I’m glad to hear that you thought it was a good ‘un, too. You make an interesting point about what isn’t in a book; but still, this one certainly sounds as though it explores some important issues without losing sight of itself as a story.
I’ve heard nothing but great things about Eva’s work and need to read both her novels!
Just bought a copy actually – am very curious as most seem basically positive, with caveats clearly. Thanks.
I’ve been finding that the best police procedurals these days are the ones that tackle some pretty deep societal issues. This one looks like a good read.
This one looks good to me and I’m waiting for it and will start it right away. I’m always glad to see social issues presented and with sympathy toward immigrants. This is a reason I liked Kaabergol and Friis’ Invisible Murders.
I do think “hate crimes” should be punished, not because of thoughts, but because hatred was a causative factor in an act of violence. People can’t be punished for their thoughts, but when they assault other people or worse and are motivated by racial or gender hatred or homophobia.
hmmmm I’m still not convinced Kathy…assault and murder and rape are of course abominable but they are all already crimes…I really don’t understand how murdering someone because you want their $100 (or whatever) is somehow less heinous than murdering someone because you hate their skin colour. I guess I’m not convinced a person’s motivation for their crime matters all that much – certainly not more than the result of their actions.
I think it potentially causes other problems too. I know a Muslim woman who was raped, the police kept asking if her attacker used any racial or religious slurs against her and she got the distinct impression they were disappointed when she said no. And she felt as if somehow her rape was not as important to them as it would have been if it had been able to be labelled a hate crime.
Well, over here a lot of violence is motivated by bigotry. A few years ago, a man who had been a member of the Klan and wanted to set up a chapter in the Midwest, went into a Sikh temple and shot and killed 6 people. A guy shot and killed 3 young Muslim students in North Carolina a month ago. A guy in Arizona shot people; his body was covered with Aryan Nation symbols.
Gay men are beaten up in New York with regularity, some very seriously. Black people have been killed by white bigots in New York, too, while they spouted racial hostility.
In 1998, James Byrd was killed in a horrendous way by three men in Jasper, Texas, who
wanted to set up a Klan chapter. I say horrendous because people who commit armed robberies do not do what these guys did.
And what about white police and Black youth? A young Honors student who is Black was
just beaten in Virginia by state “alcohol” police; this unleashed not only protests but government
If the government punishes hate crimes and it’s known that they won’t be tolerated, that
may stop some people from carrying out horrific acts.
I say this as a recent study upped the number of Black people lynched in the U.S. South
between Reconstruction and 1950 as nearly 4,000. This is still a problem here.
And a fraternity which put out a racist song has carried out violence, not just sung about it,
including attacking Jewish students at the University of Arizona last year, while yelling
Over here it’s poisonous at times.
During Obama’s administration, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups,
says their number has risen a lot.
So, this is a real problem here. it doesn’t go away, but the government has to
have a position on this.
I have heard that this book is good, and will have to put the author on a list to read someday (when I have more space on the shelves).