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Wednesday, 7 October 2020

‘Stone Cold Trouble’ by Amer Anwar

Published by Dialogue Books,
24 September 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-349-70034-2 (PB)

The author of Brothers in Blood, the winner of the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award (for the review see the Mystery People website), has returned to Southall and to his duo, Zaq (Zaqir Khan), still driving a van for a firm of building suppliers, and Jags (Jagbir Kholi). Zaq is a Muslim and Jags a Sikh but despite the long-running antipathy between the two communities, they, having been at school together and then university, are firm friends so when Jags calls on Zaq for help regarding a family problem, Zaq answers the call.

The problem is Jags’s uncle Lucky (Lakhbir), a highly successful businessman but desperately unlucky at cards, who has managed to lose his wife’s really valuable emerald and diamond necklace in a game of poker. Lucky is desperate to get the necklace back before his wife finds out but the man to whom he lost it, a Mr Shergill, has refused to return it even when offered in cash the money which Lucky had bet. Zaq is more than willing to help his mate. But then Zaq has much worse news which affects him personally: his young brother Tariq has been viciously attacked and is in hospital, unconscious and with life-threatening injuries and for the moment this takes priority. Zaq discovers that there may be a link between the attack and a big wedding at which Tariq and a friend were DJ-ing some weeks previously.

Jags, being Zaq’s friend, is ready to help Zaq to find out the facts behind the attack on Tariq while in return Zaq is prepared to help Jags. The two of them find themselves embroiled in what appear to be two separate pursuits but could there after all be links between those pursuits? The two friends pursue the truth of both conundrums with persistence and courage, even putting their own lives at risk, and revealing a number of secrets to keep which others are prepared to kill. In the end Zaq cleverly constructs a trap into which the perpetrators fall, but finds the outcome is not what he wanted.

This is a vivid and convincing picture of life in this self-contained community in a west London suburb in which the author grew up, the members of which are determined to sort out their own problems for themselves by the means, even if somewhat violent, that seem most effective to them. A reader may ask where, in all this, are the police? Apparently, there had been at one time good relations between the police and the local community but in recent years drastic cuts to police manpower in the borough had adversely affected those relations.

One difference between this and the previous book is that, unlike Brothers in Blood where the storyline was based around women, there is little room for women in this story. The two girls in Brothers in Blood do return to the scene and Zaq has a growing fondness for Nina in particular. However, another girl, the hairdresser Sharan who was at the wedding, does provide a link between what had appeared to be two separate story lines, that of Jags’s uncle Lucky and that of Zaq’s brother Tariq. What is enjoyable is the firm friendship between Zaq and Jags, often expressed in ribald terms but nonetheless rock-solid.

I am definitely looking forward to the next episode in the tale of the two Likely Lads of Southall. Recommended
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 was 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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