If Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1953 song lyrics are to be believed, supposedly love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But that rule doesn’t apply the world over. There are certain religions and societies where you don’t need love to have a marriage, just the decision of a group of third parties that a man and woman should marry, more for money and social standing than any other reason.
In the west arranged marriages are frowned upon and go against all the social norms, this is why it is usually leads to fatalities in the form of “Honour Killings” committed by family members against other family members. In most cases the victim is the girl when she follows her heart and falls for a man naturally and often outside her social and religious circle. According to www.HBV-awareness.com there are 5,000 of these murders perpetrated around the world each year, 1000 in Pakistan and 1000 in India annually while in the UK there are 12 reported annually. That’s the basis and setting this month’s second book, its Western Fringes by Amer Anwar, published by Edurus Books (www.edurusbooks.com) in June of this year.
In Southall, West London, Rita Brar the daughter of a Hindu builder’s yard owner has gone missing, so her father summons Zak Khan, a lowly but tough looking, delivery driver to his office. There he blackmails Zak, who’s just out of prison for killing a man in self-defence. He asks Zak to find his daughter or he’ll go back to prison on trumped up robbery charges. With no experience and a few leads, in the form of a list of phone numbers, Zak ,with the help of his best mate Jagdev (Jags), a savvy and successful salesperson, set out to track down Rita. Thinking this could be a walk in the park, Zak soon finds himself, slightly out of his depth and the target for everyone with a right hook including those from his past, with a taste for revenge. However, Zak has spent his time wisely inside and can look out for himself. What was supposed to be a simple missing person location turns out to be a girl escaping an arranged marriage and the prospect of an honour killing. Before long the body count is starting to add up, along with discovery of more sinister and high stakes reasons for the family fallout. Can Zak stay out of trouble long enough to find Rita? If he does find her can he convince her to trust someone who works for her dad?
To say this book comes out of its corner fighting is an understatement, it arrived in the post with a tea bag and a plaster in the envelope with it. From the first page, Anwar sets a staggering pace and within the first thirty pages, I thought I was going to need to have a first aid kit next to me.
Then there’s the taut drama and rapier wit which is mixed skilfully into this punchy debut, to help drive the story forward. The descriptions of Southall are expertly described and immediately you are immersed into the close-knit community so much so you can smell the spices and easily get a hankering for the food.
This is a very gritty and full on novel that always makes you feel as if you are actively involved in the hunt. One example is a very graphic torture and subsequent murder witnessed by Zaq, that will leave even the most stoic readers uncomfortable. Although, this is all par for the course in one of the most engrossing books I’ve read in a while.
Zak is a very believable character – expertly crafted with just enough flaws to bring him to life on the page. He comes across as a regular Terry McCann, the whole story has the feel of “Minder” with an Asian twist. It’s a pity it’ll probably a once off, although who knows if Anwar has plans for another adventure featuring Zaq and Jags.
If there is anything that takes marginally away from the book, it’s the Punjabi language which is used very liberally (on almost every page) throughout the story when the characters are talking to each other. Whilst this may add authenticity and really does bring the story to life, without any sort of hint as to what they are saying (maybe the addition of a one or two-page list of popular phrases translated at the front or back of the book) it detracts from the experience and at times I felt as if I was being deliberately left out of the conversation.
This is London born Anwar’s (www.ameranwar.com) first book and it has already won the CWA Debut dagger award for its first chapter. His own back story is almost as colourful as his lead character, he’s been a driver for emergency doctors, a chalet rep in the Alps and graphic designer.
So, if you’re looking for a hard hitting and edgy book, with refreshingly original characters. Download a copy or pop into a local bookshop and on your way home pick up a curry, a naan and some poppadum’s, then settle in for a great British-Asian thriller.