Jean Harrod's new novel 'Deadly Deceit' breaks new ground on the Brexit fallout.
Amidst Labour MP Gisela Stuart's claims last month that EU citizens in the UK have been 'left in limbo', post-Brexit chaos shows little sign of calming. After a summer of such political uncertainty, it could be difficult to enjoy the simple pleasures of fiction of a sunny September evening. Yet it is not a newspaper but a novel, Deadly Deceit by Jean Harrod, which reminds us that problems of cultural identity and immigration - whilst piercingly topical at the moment - have been so for centuries.
Former Diplomat Harrod has always been a woman ahead of her time, so it's no surprise she published such a fitting novel ahead of the vote. Recruited by the Foreign Office aged 19 and wed at 22, it didn't deter Jean that she was expected her to resign upon marriage. Whilst she was busy working on a post Cold-War conference in Geneva, Jean stashed letters prompting her resignation in a drawer. The eventual birth of the Sexual Discrimination Act, along with her own persistence, made her the first woman in the Foreign Office to marry and have a full career. In fact, Jean and her husband (also a diplomat) were the first couple to go on joint overseas postings. The pair's adventures include their time behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin, setting up a new British Consulate-General in Shanghai after the Cultural Revolution, and helping with the release of four kidnapped Cambridge students in Indonesia's West Papua. It was travelling around the volatile archipelago of Indonesia that Jean began to realise the gravity of her role;
"Dealing with all the calamaties that affect Britons in Indonesia, as well as in the aftermath of some awful accidents, I sometimes wondered if I would ever finish my tour of duty in one piece."
These experiences were also the catalyst for the former diplomat's turn as a thriller writer. As British Consul in Indonesia, Harrod was responsible for the protection of British Citizens- the overwhleming duty her protagonist, Jess Turner, is regularly faced with. Following an extremely stressful posting in Australia in the first novel Deadly Diplomacy, Jess is reunited with sidekick DI Tom Sangster in Deadly Deceit. The second novel is set in the Turks and Caicos Islands; whilst the name may not jump out to you on a first mention, this is Harrod's very point. Many of us don't realise these islands lying south of the Bahamas are in fact a British Overseas Territory. Struggles with national identity and immigration conflicts have been present here far before the term Brexit was born.
Harrod herself has spent time in her protagonist's post, as Head of the Governor's Office of the islands, back in 2007-2008. Behind the smokescreen of turquoise lagoons and ivory beaches lay problems with illegal Haitian migrants to the islands, many of whom risked everything to travel in rickety sloops across the treacherous waters. One night in particular sticks with Jean;
"I dealt with the aftermath of a tragic sloop sinking in stormy seas. Some 60 Haitians lost their lives that night, only a handful of men survived. The sight of those poor souls laid out in the morgue as we tried to identify them for their relatives back home in Haiti, will never leave me."
By writing about harrowing moments such as these, Harrod hopes to humanise the migrant crisis. Deadly Deceit tackles our inherent fear of the 'other' in many facets, from voodoo religion and women in authority to foreigners searching for a home. Whatever your thoughts on Brexit, Harrod's take on the matter of immigration and the search for a better life is simple;
"People-smuggling is an evil trade and one that we must firmly stamp out."
Deadly Deceit may transport you to Caribbean shores, but it shouldn't be typecast as a holiday read. Having seen Harrod speak at the book's launch in Covent Garden, her insight into the world of diplomacy is both passionate and acute - a tricky line to tread in any business. Pair this with her fervid imagination and you have a set of characters you'll want for more than a summer fling. Jess and Tom are a rare double-act in the sense they are often on entirely different missions, a twist which artfully breaks the formula. Comedy is also a forté of Harrod's and her ability to inject humour into a novel packed with political expertise shouldn't go unnoticed. Some people will always argue fiction is futile, but made up stories can certainly help us see the real world more clearly. Just as Deadly Deceit is more than a seasonal tale, Harrod reminds us that cultural identity and migration are global, not purely European, problems.