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City of Tiny Lights Paperback – April 4, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British author Neate's comic mystery introduces an intriguing hero, Tommy Akhtar, a Ugandan-Indian London PI, whose résumé includes a stint with the mujahideen in Afghanistan. When a hooker hires Akhtar to find a missing friend and colleague, he gets caught up in a larger drama involving a murdered MP and the murky doings of terrorists and various intelligence agencies. After the energy and frantic momentum of the opening scenes, the pace slows as the plot becomes a little too convoluted for its own good. More seriously, with the recent bombings in the London Underground still fresh in the public mind, some may find Neate's efforts at humor and satire to be premature. While Neate may not be in Kinky Friedman's class as a humorist or prose stylist, this book should appeal to Kinkster fans. Neate's novel Twelve Bar Blues won the 2001 Whitbread Novel Award. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Neate (Where You're At, 2004), whose previous books have been diverse, sprawling, and sometimes award winning, turns to crime. Tommy Akhtar is a Ugandan Indian private eye with a fondness for Wild Turkey and Benson & Hedges and an absolute mania for cricket. Oh, and he was also a mujahideen in Afghanistan. When a brassy hooker hires him to find her missing flatmate, Akhtar soon learns his mission is about far more than bad debt between working girls: the MI5 and CIA are working the same case, too. Neate has overwhelmed some readers with his torrential narrative, but here, in the service of a tightly plotted mystery/thriller, the ebullience of his writing lifts readers like a storm surge that carries them off the beach and right back to their beds. Akhtar is one-of-a-kind, his voice a rollicking blend of erudite thought delivered in delightfully crude slang. Political digressions are blunt but well informed and rich with irony. And a plot thread involving a terrorist threat in London has startling relevance after the events of last July. Neate waggishly calls this "Another Tommy Akhtar Investigation" (it's the first we've seen); let's hope he makes good on that promise. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594481865
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594481864
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,094,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Evan Baily on April 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an incredible book - suspenseful, smart, funny, and loaded with vivid, memorable characters. The best of the batch is the narrator, Tommy Akhtar, a hard-bitten but sentimental, self-loathing but self-congratulatory, alcoholic, chain-smoking ex-mujahedeen London private detective of Ugandan-Indian descent.

As a detective novel, CITY OF TINY LIGHTS totally satisfies. But it isn't just a detective novel. Long after after the ingenuity of the plot has faded from memory, I'll remember Tommy's fumblingly earnest attempts to connect with the people in his life. Even more, I'll remember his voice: equal parts gumshoe, smartass, working-class London tough guy, immigrant, eldest son, and disillusioned ideologue. This character and this book have a wonderful, vibrant humanity.
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Format: Paperback
Neate's exploration into the Pakistani/Indian subculture of London via Tommy Akhtar's private detective agency is at once entertaining and fascinating. This first person POV ("I did this, I did that.") can distract some people, though I don't mind it.

Tommy Akhtar, the hard-boiled PI, was a muhjahdin in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets. He came home to London with a drinking problem and a conscience problem. In this novel, a prostitute (her URL is exoticmelody.com) contracts him to find her flatmate, sexyrussion.com, who has disappeared. From there, Tommy gets involved with the Russian mob, some MPs, and Islamist extremists.

The novel is beautifully written. The characters are all round and wonderfully drawn. Tommy himself is a model for a character. He's deep and round, and I think he's wonderful.

The main stopping point for me in this novel was the Briticisms. While that's certainly not a problem in Britain, and I don't think you can change them without substantially changing the flavour of the book (which would be a shame), it can make the reading tough for an American. Tommy's father quotes pithy cricket aphorisms. I read a couple to my husband, who was first batsman for his university, and he didn't get a few of them. Another friend of mine (who emigrated from the Indian subculture of London when he was 16) read the book, and he found some of the phrasing hard to follow. That, and for some reason, in this hard-boiled detective novel, the "eff word" is dashed out, like "f---ing". That drove me insane.

This book gets five stars for the beautiful characters, wonderful background and setting, and intricate plot. Don't let the bleedin' Briticisms stop you from enjoying this great book.
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Format: Paperback
Neate's lastest novel is an engaging take on the hard-boiled detective genre, albeit one that perhaps somewhat overextends itself just a bit to much to be considered a total knockout of a book. Set in contemporary London (with a minor excursion to the Lymington seaside), the book revolves around Tommy Akhtar. Now in his mid to late 30s, Tommy was born in Uganda to Indian parents who immigrated to England when Idi Amin came to power. But don't let his colorful background fool you (in his youth he fell in with some people at the local mosque and ended up killing Soviets in Afghanistan), he's a classic Chandleresque private eye. Alcoholic? Check. Chain-smoker? Check. Smart aleck? Check. Cynic? Check. Good-hearted? Check. Got a "friend" on the police force? Check. Poor family life? Check. Pursues interesting case even though he's finished what he was paid to do? Check.

It all kicks off when a hooker hires Tommy to track down her missing flatmate/partner, who apparently owes her money. By the time the book is over, this simple case will have spiraled out of control into a very complex situation involving the murder of a Minister of Parliament, a mysterious Russian, an alleged terrorist group, and a cadre of MI5 and CIA agents. Interwoven with this is background on Tommy's life and his relationship with his dodgy brother and whacked out artist father. When the story follows Tommy down the mean streets, doing his work, tracking down the missing girl, sneaking into hotel rooms, and bantering with the supporting characters, the book works very very well. Neate brilliantly catches the patter and rhythm of dialogue, from Tommy's father's stern scolding to the local Pakistani teenage rude boy's patois.
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Format: Paperback
Tommy Akhtar is a Ugandan-Indian immigrant Englishman (a `Paki' as he calls himself), formerly a fighter with the Afghan mujahideen, now a cynical (but occasionally idealistic) private eye living in the orbit of his father and brother in Chiswick, London. He's hard-as-nails, hard drinking, a smoker; he rarely eats any actual food in the book.

He could be a hard-as-nails, hard drinking American private eye except that he's Muslim and he's a major cricket fan. He's also heavily into London street slang.

The plot of the book is almost buried in his life story, which pops up at all kinds of inconvenient moments, in the cricket metaphors (totally incomprehensible to an American) and in the street slang (also incomprehensible to an American, although I got online and looked up some of the terms in an English slang diary).

In spite of the obvious difficulties with the book, I persisted to the end, hoping for a rousing finale that would redeem my struggle with the mysterious cricket dialogue, but I was disappointed. The plot fell flat at the end, and was implausible to boot.

The best feature of the book, for me at least, was the immersion in English immigrant life, which was previously completely unknown territory to me. The stratifications of English culture, informed as it is by immigrants from all over the world - the Caribbean, Africa, India, Russia, Ireland - are fascinating; if the characters were not so cynical and the slang were not so pronounced, I could almost recommend it. As it is, however, it's more trouble than it's worth for American audiences.
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