I never thought I would be a published thriller writer.
It was pure happenstance that my wife saw the Harvill Secker/Bloody Scotland competition for debut crime writers and persuaded me to enter. The idea of a disgraced Indian detective working as a waiter in a Brick Lane restaurant had been with me for over a decade and it was amazing to see Kamil Rahman come to life as I wrote The Waiter and even more incredible to see the generous response it received from readers and reviewers.
And I discovered that once I had entered Kamil and Anjoli’s world, I really wanted to know what happened next. Did Kamil come to terms with his failure as a cop? Did he and Anjoli get together? Did he ever become a detective again? But I needed a plot to hang these questions on. I had a vague idea about a love interest from Pakistan ending up in Kamil’s orbit – two foreigners having left South Asia under difficult circumstances.
But then I happened to be browsing in my local indie bookstore and saw No Fixed Abode: Life and Death among the UK’s Forgotten Homeless, by Maeve McLenaghan. I’m not sure what instinct caused me to buy it – I don’t read a lot of non-fiction – but I was so glad that I did. Maeve’s stories about the homeless, the system that has caused their situation, and what we might be able to do about it really moved me. One passage in particular, where she talked about people seeing the homeless as objects, not people, pierced me to the core. Growing up in Calcutta, that had been my lived experience, however ashamed I might be of it. And that lead to the questions in this book. Who is there to care for the homeless in London? If something happened to them who would notice?
I set about knitting together these two themes into a plot and so was born The Cook. Kamil is now a cook in the restaurant, with a beautiful new girlfriend – Naila, a nursing student from Pakistan who has fled an abusive marriage. A colleague of Naila’s is murdered and Kamil, Anjoli and Naila (‘The Three Duskyteers’) decide to try and find the killer. Then a homeless friend of Anjoli’s is found dead in a doorway… the book pretty much wrote itself from then on.
While The Cook is a fun crime novel with generous handfuls of humour and much cooking mixed into it, the core issue remains. Homeless deaths have increased 80% (!) since 2019, partly due to the fact that when the pandemic started, the government found housing for rough sleepers but then turfed them out after a few months. I am trying to do a little to help by donating part of the proceeds from The Cook to St Mungo’s, a charity that makes a difference.