Death by Design by Barbara Nadel

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Time was when you could buy a very nice little fake handbag that had been knocked out in someone’s garage with a clear conscience. All over the world little groups of people made clothes and accessories in the latest fashion for half the price of stuff sold on the high street. Market stalls were full of such items and when I was a teenager buying such cheap copies was the only way I could afford to be in any way ‘on trend’.

Quite what happened to change all this is unclear. Theories include the notion that the coming of designer labels into middle and working class consciousness was what altered things. Suddenly we all HAD to have a Lacroix necklace, a Gucci handbag or a Nike trainer even if what we actually got was a fake. It was the label that was important. Whether organised crime jumped on this bandwagon from the start or whether in fact they pre-empted this trend is also unclear. What is now beyond doubt however is that the type of people who knock out fake handbags these days are not Mr and Mrs Slightly-Dodgy in their garage. People who do this also run arms, traffic people and drugs, own brothels where women are treated with appalling cruelty and, in some cases, have connections with terrorist organisations. Clever and well connected, these people are powerful, ruthless and totally without conscience. Fake drugs like the too-good-to-be-true Viagra one sees almost everywhere these days are either ineffective or actually harmful. Pain killers that do not have any analgesic effects, heart pills that do nothing at all, contraceptives that make you sick. If it looks too good to be true, then guess what?

I had been morbidly fascinated with the knock off industry and its reputation as the slave trade of the 21st century for some time. However when I began to write my latest book ‘Death by Design’, a mystery set in and around the knock off trade I had to get down to some full-on research. What I found was worse than anything I had imagined. In some of the factories where these fakes are produced workers (usually illegal migrants) are chained to their work benches just like the workers used to be in the worst cotton mills in 19th century Lancashire. In many cases these people are working off their ‘debt’ to the slave masters who are also the people who trafficked them into the European Union, Turkey or wherever. Gangs are international, well organised and, unlike ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, they really know the true meaning of ‘joined up thinking’.

I don’t know how to counter such organisations and neither does my protagonist, Çetin İkmen of the İstanbul Police Department. But in ‘Death by Design’ some of the co-operation that will be needed between law enforcement agencies across the globe is explored. A connection is discovered between a knock off factory in İstanbul and a similar operation in London. İkmen is therefore despatched to the British capital and given the job of integrating into one of these operations in the guise of an illegal immigrant. Not only does this well-educated and respected man learn a lot about the fake trade, he also finds out what it feels like to be considered ignorant, worthless and alien.

Although ‘Death by Design’ is an exciting book, with its fair share of homicides, explosions, car chases and a very brave and also funky Mayor of London, writing it was often a depressing pursuit. That our little designer treats are bought at such a price is both shameful and uncomfortable. That those who simply seek a better life elsewhere are exploited and brutalised by this industry is terrifying. ‘Death by Design’ is a fictional book which takes these international connections between crime gangs, dodgy manufacturers and terror groups to its logical conclusion. But if you do read it, ask yourself whether it is actually that far fetched after all. Also, next time you are looking for a new handbag or pair of trainers just take a moment to think about where you might purchase them from and whether that designer label is really worth looking for.

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