Do you ever have those moments when you feel really stupid? When you know you should have done something but you just haven’t, for no better reason than just because? That was me when it comes to reading Brothers In Blood and I owe the author a huge apology and myself a kick up the backside. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few years now, not just in this format but in its previously self published version of Western Fringes, and I’ve been meaning to read it, always had it hovering at the back of my mind, but not quite got there. Well with book two, Stone Cold Trouble out at the end of the month, I got my bum in gear, downloaded the audiobook and used my daily exercise to good effect, making the book my priority. Before I tell you if the wait was worth it, here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
THEY’RE NOT BOUND BY FAMILY. BUT A FAMILY COULD TEAR THEM APART.
Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.
But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss’s runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it’s too late? And if he does, can he keep her – and himself – alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?
If you are looking for a book that is equal parts dark humour and tense action, then you could definitely save yourself a lot of trouble with a random Amazon search and just pick up Brothers in Blood. It will have everything you are looking for, with the bonus of having some absolutely original and authentic Asian characters at the heart of the story too.
We are introduced to one of the two principal characters right at the start of the book. Zaq Khan is a guy with a troubled past. With a serious criminal record and his once prosperous life in IT in tatters, he now works as a driver for a building supplies firm which, in itself, is hard enough. When his boss, Mr Brar, calls him to the office one morning he makes him an offer he cannot refuse. Literally cannot. Find his missing daughter or face going back to prison. Simple decision – not so simple task, as Zaq isn’t the only person looking for Rita, and the real stakes are far higher than even Zaq could have imagined.
Now if you think logically of all the reasons a young Asian woman might have for running away from home, it probably won’t take you too long to figure out one of the reasons behind Rita’s disappearance. If only that were the sole reason, life for Zaq would be relatively straightforward. Rita’s disappearance is anything but straightforward and this is where the real excitement begins. Amer Anwar has been able to pull together a story that is jam packed full of tension, threat and action, as well as recreating a truly authentic asian voice for the narrative. The whole sense of the different cultures is carefully laid out. From the clash of the different religions, to the different notions of honour and dishonour that are held by certain parts of the community, you get a real feeling for the divisions which have formed within the large Asian population of Southall. Everything is so brilliantly and vividly described, that I felt as though I was there, could sense myself salivating everytime one of the absolutely lovely sounding meals was mentioned. Just as an aside – prepare to find yourself developing a craving for Asian cooking if you read this book – there is plenty of inspiration.
Zaq was an absolutely fascinating character to get to know. Although this is billed as a Zaq and Jags story, a lot of the action centred around Zaq, although we did spend a good amount of time with his best friend and brother in arms, Jags, too. It’s probably safe to say that Zaq is a lapsed Muslim – not religious and happy to take more than the occasional step away from the traditional observances of the faith. But despite not being faithful to his religion, he is one hundred percent loyal to his friends and Jags is as close to him as a brother. Closer even. I don’t envy Zaq his predicament – damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t – but I loved the way Amer Anwar used his intelligence, his natural charm, and his prison learned smarts to help him overcome a near constant run of adversity. It’s a bloody good job he learned how to fight in prison as those were some skills he needed to see him through. Jags is almost Zaq’s complete opposite in terms of character – he is living the life that Zaq should have done had fate not intervened – but he is quick to jump to Zaq’s aid, and guaranteed to back him up in a fight. Between them the banter really brings a smile to your face and I couldn’t imagine one without the other. They are two kind of cheeky, but truly likeable characters and the perfect leads for the story that follows.
There are a plethora of other characters who come together to make up an impressive cast of Asian voices. From the uncompromising Mr Brar, head of the company where Zaq works, to his arrogant sons, Rajinder and Parminder and their less than charming and thoroughly brutish associates, Zaq has few allies as he searches for Rita. The few he does have come in the form of an ex-con he knows from his time inside, and his current housemates, an assortment of Hindu and Sikh men who tick every box on the ‘typical adult male housemate’ checklist, but who offer not only near constant and always humorous banter, but also uncompromising support to Zaq. No bad thing given that on top of the pressure and threat from the Brar’s it appears there are other forces at play, people who are keen to see Zaq taken down for reasons that are not immediately apparent.
Sometimes brutal, often humorous and always exciting, this book takes us deep into the heart of life on the streets of Southall. A story of revenge, greed and betrayal, it’s a kind of clash of modern culture and traditional values, rounded out by a misplaced sense of honour and desire for retribution. Tense from the start, this is a very cleverly plotted action thriller that hooked me straight away and had me fully engaged with the characters and the story. Just when you think you are absolutely certain what is happening, the author throws in a few curveballs to shake things up a touch. And the ending is simple but effective and certainly produced a smile on my face. I should also pass on a compliment to the audiobook narrator, Homer Todiwala, who really brought the story, the action and the characters, to life. Brilliant narration.
If you are looking for some really authentic and gritty Asian noir, with characters you will love to love, then look no further, This is definitely recommended.
About the Author
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.