Despite the insouciant heading “Another Tommy Akhtar Investigation,” this hunt for a missing prostitute marks the raffish Indian/Ugandan private eye’s debut.
There’s no mistaking the client’s profession. From top to toe, everything about her spells hooker. And it’s a lucky thing that Tommy Akhtar can figure that out, because everything Melody Chase (online at exoticmelody.co.uk) tells him about her search for her flatmate Natasha Kuzmin (sexyrussian.co.uk) is a lie. For one thing, Natasha’s last punter wasn’t just some white man Melody can describe reasonably well; he was Anthony Bailey, a government MP whose picture is in every paper in England when he’s found beaten to death in the Holiday Inn he’d chosen for his tryst with Natasha. For another, the money Natasha owes Melody—a trifling £500 or so, Natasha admits when Tommy tracks her down in Lymington—would hardly cover Tommy’s fee of £300 a day; what Melody really wants is the contact information for Gaileov, whoever he is. Finally, despite her umbrage at the suggestion, Melody really does work with a pimp, and the pimp is up to his account books in trouble. So, in short order, is Tommy, whose success in finding Natasha provides the last good news he’ll get for a long time. Neate (The London Pigeon Wars, 2004, etc.) deftly thickens the plot as it rolls along. But few readers will be as surprised as tough cookie Tommy—who keeps flashing back to third-person anecdotes of his Mideast war service to provide explanatory analogies for situations that don’t need explaining—when the routine disappearance ends up entangling him with the Metropolitan Police, MI5, the CIA and a cadre of international terrorists.
The main value of this trendy exercise in up-to-the-minute private investigation, in fact, may be its revelation of how strikingly postmodern that romantic knight errant Philip Marlowe was all along.