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Thursday 8 November 2018

‘Brothers in Blood’ by Amer Anwar

Winner of the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger 2017
Published by Dialogue Books,
6 September 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-3497-0028-1(PB)

Zaqir (Zaq) Khan, from Southall in West London, has just come out of prison after serving a five-year sentence for manslaughter. He needs to find a job but the only job he can find is driving a van for a firm of building suppliers. The firm belongs to a Mr Brar, who like many of the inhabitants of Southall, is a Sikh as are all the other employees of the firm. Apart, that is, from Zaq who is a Muslim. For historical reasons, going back many generations in South Asia, relations between Sikhs and Muslims are not good. So, when Zaq is called in by Mr Brar, although he has nothing to hide, he knows that if anyone is due to be fired, it’ll probably be him. But Mr Brar doesn’t want to fire Zaq, he wants Zaq to find his daughter Rita who has run away from home rather than marry the man whom her father wishes her to marry. And if Zaq doesn’t find her, then Mr Brar will accuse him of theft which will ensure that Zaq goes back to jail, probably for a long time. Why does Mr Brar want to get his daughter back home? Because it is shameful for a girl to run away from home, doubly so since she seems to have run away in the company of a Muslim man, Kassim. And Mr Brar’s two fearsome sons, Rajinder and Parminder, will be keeping an eye on Zaq. Or the worse for him. So Zaq agrees, hoping that if he finds Rita he will get Mr Brar and his sons off his back and that her punishment will not be too bloody. But where can he start to look? He turns to his friend Jagbir (Jags) Kholi, a Sikh, and together they start to track down Rita, but with difficulty, because she does not want to be found. The search grows increasingly dangerous because the Brar brothers clearly have their own agenda which involves not just Rita’s disappearance but a world of criminality. Luckily Zaq took boxing lessons while in jail, to protect himself against the violence which permeates British jails today and he has Jags to back him up as well as the various mates with whom he house shares. But will Zaq and Jags come safely through the dangers that the search has unleashed and get Rita back under the paternal roof?

At one point I did feel rather depressed by the picture of life in the South Asian community that the author depicts, not by the brutal violence that the Brar brothers inflict on their victims or the antipathy that various sub-cultures within the South Asian community feel for each other (sadly, common enough elsewhere as anyone who studies the world today), but by the way in which the groups insist on sorting out their own problems themselves, never mind how. But the relationship between Zaq and Jags is firm as is the friendship between the various young men in his house-share: I was reminded of the long-ago sit-com, The Likely Lads. These Lads like the odd drink, often go down to the pub or share a takeaway, josh each other all the time, talk about girls and their (non-existent) conquests. And Rita and her friend Nina, both pretty emancipated and not standing for any paternalistic, authoritarian nonsense, thank you very much, indicate the way the future is going. Right-on, sister, I said to myself, girls’ rule, okay. Well, they could hardly make a worse mess of things than the Brar Brothers.

Recommended, with a health warning as to the very graphic violence and lots of four-letter words.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent a decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award. Western Fringes is his first novel.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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