Review: Pigeon English

Pigeon English
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has some strong recommendations on the front cover. Quotes from the Times, the Guardian and short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011 send out the message that this is real quality and maybe that’s what lead to my low rating, maybe I was expecting a lot more. The story concerns itself with young Harrison Opoku a Ghana national who now finds himself living in a tower block in modern day London with his mother and elder sister. The story is told in the first person from Harrison’s point of view and this is somewhere that Kelman really excels, as a reader you are transported to this magical world of guardian pigeons, amateur detection and the stirrings of first love but something never rang true for me. Whilst the narrative is convincing I felt a lot of the characters actions were not to the point that a major piece of plot info is unrealistic ally held back until towards the end of the book. The story revolves around the murder of an older boy who Harrison knows and Harrison and a friend spend their time trying to find the killer. They attempt to take fingerprints from the crime scene, they look for foot prints and try to collect sputum samples from people in the area. Harrison is constantly harassed by the local hoodies, they try to enlist him and when he fails a number of tasks they turn on him and threaten him with violence. Harrison’s friend Dean watches a lot of CSI and tells Harrison about the things they should be doing to catch the killer, yet when they find the victims bloody wallet they don’t hand it in to the police. This didn’t make sense to me as they’d spent the whole blummin book looking for evidence. Also when it becomes blatantly obvious who the killer is we find out that Harrison had witnessed an altercation between the murdered boy and the killer on the day he was murdered but he never once mentions this to anyone or even thinks about it until the end. This struck me as absolute nonsense, totally unrealistic, to the extent it ripped me out of the world that Kelman had created with a jolt. You can’t have a character hunting for clues, desperate to solve a crime who forgets/blanks a pivotal incident from their memory just to ad tension to the story, as it didn’t anyway, it was fairly obvious who the killer was from the beginning so this rather baffled me. Also, whenever Harrison thinks of Ghana or talks to his father and younger sister back in Ghana we have a picture of an African idyl, strong community spirit, healthy living, care free days but no real indication as to why they’ve split up the family to be in England? The child’s eye view of urban London is wonderfully told, with a very strong authentic voice and I suspect that it was this that lead to the short list and plaudits but the brutal plot twist and holes made it less than perfect for me. In the end I came away from this feeling that it was a very well meaning, middle class view of a much deeper problem. The pigeon I hated, tolerated and then enjoyed but never really understood why.

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