BAGHDAD today is lawless city, full of rival gangs, an unpopular occupying army and must be pretty low down on anyone’s list of cities to journey to.
However, at the time of Andrew Killeen’s book ‘The Father Of Locks’ it is the self-styled capital of the world. A vibrant, multi-cultural city at the heart of a vast Islamic empire that is at the forefront of philosophy and culture.
Written in the style of the famous ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ Killeen’s story is detective story steeped in Arabian glamour and urban grit.
It follows the story of an intrepid young Ismail al-Rawiya, a spirited boy with a sense of adventure that leads him into contact with the famous Abu Nuwas, a poet with a taste for the decadent but also a kind of 8th century Sherlock Holmes.
Obeying the whims of the ruling Wazir they attempt to solve a mystery that has the city living in fear. There are stories that the devil is stalking the streets of Baghdad, with the power to summon fire from thin air, and kidnapping children for devious purposes.
Author Andrew Killeen has spent his life working with disadvantaged children and now works for Solihull Council ensuring that various groups responsible for child welfare communicate with each other as they should.
So how does a lifetime helping children marry with the dark world that Andrew has created in The Father of Locks? A world in which decadence and debauchery go hand in hand with child sacrifice?
Andrew laughs at the question. “Well actually my work in Birmingham helped me to write this book.”
“There are parallels between Baghdad and Birmingham, at the time when The Father of Locks is set the cities would have been around the same size.”
“I think my work with disadvantaged children helped me to realise that beneath the functional veneer of the city there are dark and dangerous things going on. My work brought me into contact with the tougher ends of urban life.”
With the inspiration for an urban thriller formed, why did Andrew choose eighth-century Baghdad as the setting?
“It’s a period that’s always interested me. I loved the Sinbad films when I was young and I’ve read One Thousand and One Nights.”
“I started the book with the characters, Abu Nuwas and Ismail, then I needed somewhere to put them.”
“A lot of the exciting periods in history have been done to death. Nobody had really looked at Baghdad.”
Writing a novel whilst working full-time can’t be great for your social life. “No, I don’t think my friends saw me much during the time it took me to write The Father of Locks! For a year I became like a weird hermit babbling away about eighth century Baghdad.”
The reaction to Andrew’s debut book has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so that he is already hard at work halfway through writing the sequel, and has a queue of other ideas he wants to explore.
“In some ways writing the sequel is easier, because I know how I work, in other ways though it is harder, because I’m much busier.”
With a demanding audience eagerly awaiting the sequel, you best be on your guard should you ever find yourself near to the council buildings, there’s a Baghdad obsessed hermit in there somewhere...
The Father of Locks is published by Dedalus Books.