by Harriet Sergeant and Marlon Campbell
“Parrots Over Babylon” is a mystery thriller and a love story. London’s first female Mayor is forced to team up with a gangster to discover who murdered her lover.
Jessica Ashton is white, posh and well-educated. Michael Bailey, “Sugar” is black, British Caribbean and first went to prison at the age of fifteen. She is the charismatic politician with imposter syndrome. He is the street smart, drug dealer with zero tolerance of sloppy principles.
Jessica Ashton boasts an attractive husband and a well-connected family. But Jessica has a secret. She is in love with an ex-con, Jermaine Johnson.
Jermaine runs a community centre off Brixton High Street. He is revered for his work with young people. Despite choosing different paths in life, his closest friend since childhood is still Sugar. When Jermaine is murdered, Jessica and Sugar are determined to track down his killer.
The story takes us through different parts of London; from a House of Commons Select Committee to South London street politics, an anarchist squat to a tycoon’s penthouse, a Shoreditch private club to a Jamaican Nine Night.
Events propel Sugar and Jessica into an uneasy alliance. But is the killer from his world or hers? As their mutual attraction intensifies so do the attempts on their lives. They are forced to flee together before the final show down threatens to destroy them or drive them apart for good.
THE STORY BEHIND “PARROTS OVER BABYLON”
Marlon and I are from a different class, a different generation and a different culture. Normally we would never have met – let alone worked together on a book. This is how it began.
MARLON I was caught up in a conspiracy charge. A friend of mine was being followed by the Met for drug dealing and a shooting. My friendship connection to him meant I had to lie low. This happens to a lot of people in my area. You come under the police radar because you know someone. Not because you are active yourself. I spent the time watching and analysing movies. Apart from the ‘Wire,’ none of them rang true. I started thinking up scenarios and characters based on my life.
My cousin, Tuggy Tug, told me about this rich, white lady. He owed me some money and was looking to get back into my good books. I assumed she was talking to him because she wanted to invest in drugs. When I met Harriet, I was surprised. I felt like she cared. She asked a lot of questions and tried to get me a job. Over lunch in Nando’s one day, she asked me what I really wanted to do. I told her I wanted to write a thriller about London, with criminals from north, south, west and east London. She was very enthusiastic and started to add characters from her background. And that is how the book started.
HARRIET I was investigating a Think Tank report on why white working class and black Caribbean boys fail. I met one gang from West Norwood and was immediately captivated by its leader, fifteen-year-old Tuggy Tug. I started to take them out to meals, museums and art galleries. I meant to change their lives. Instead they changed mine.
These young criminals forced me to question what makes a good person. They have a strong ethical code — just not ours. In my world, bankers scammed the public and got away with it. People close to me who consider themselves culturally and morally superior to the likes of Tuggy Tug, broke my trust. I wanted to write a book about this contradictory London I was experiencing. Then I met Marlon.
MARLON In the environment I grew up in, everyone is trying to survive by any means. South London is a different kettle of fish. Even a civilian must have his wits about him. I was kidnapped when I was five, I was chased by a pedophile when I was seven. When I was eight my friend and I were caught up in a skirmish. He died right next to me, his head smashed into a car windshield. This hardened us. Where I come from, when people get shot, we are not shocked. We ask what make of gun was used.
Since writing this book with Harriet, I have realised there is a different world out there. You can be legit and not in a dead end job. You can have a criminal record and still have a second chance. Most of my friends fall into despair. It was hard at the time but this book took over my life. It saved me.
Photos play a vital role in the plot. They were also very important while we were writing the book. Marlon sent me photos so we could visualise the scene together.
Disclaimer: None of the individuals in these photos have anything to do with the imagined characters and events in the book.