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
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