East Of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman

The Blurb On The Back:

Meet Jay.

Small-time dealer.

Accidental jihadist.

Or the one man who can save us all? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Javid “Jay” Qasim is a small-time drug dealer who lives in Hounslow with his mum (his dad having died in a motorcycle accident before he was born). His best friend is Idris Zaidi, a detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police, who doesn’t let Jay’s dealing or cannabis use get in the way of trying to convince Jay to do something else with his life. But Jay is pretty happy as he is – he’s just bought a sweet BMW with his dealing profits and he gets all of his cooking and cleaning done for him – there’s no reason for anything to change …

Until the day his BMW gets jacked while he’s out helping his childhood friend Parvez gets him involved in a revenge attack on a group of white youths and his Beemer – together with the £10k he owes his dealer (the very violent Silas Drakos). Help comes from the unlikely source of Kingsley Parker, an ex-soldier turned MI5 handler who’s willing to make Jay’s troubles go away provided he helps the UK to hunt for jihadists within the local community …

Khurrum Rahman’s debut thriller (the first in a trilogy) is worth a read if you can get past a series of plot contrivances that at times made me raise my eyebrows, mainly because Jay has a great narrative voice and a lot of potential but also because Rahman paints a believable picture of the British Muslim community and its members (both good and bad) while a cliff hanger ending made me want to know what happens next.

With some caveats, I did believe in Jay as a character and Rahman does a great job with his first person voice, using it to explain certain aspects of being a Muslim and what it means to be a brown-skinned Muslim in Britain while also maintaining a sense of humour. Where I had an issue with him was with his relationships, which seem to exist purely to service the plot. For example, the reader gets told a lot about Jay’s friendship with Idris – which is clearly close enough for Jay to feel hurt and angry when his drug dealing results in Idris having to suspend their friendship and had the plot revolved around Idris flirting with extremism, then I wouldn’t have had much difficulty in believing why Jay would go to such great lengths to try and help them. Unfortunately, the character who Jay is keen to rescue is one that Rahman shows Jay as disparaging in the early chapters and who makes a point of reminding Jay that it’s been several years since they really hung out together (mainly because Jay found him too preachy), which means that I didn’t really buy into Jay’s sudden desire to save him (whether that be through guilt or through friendship).

It doesn’t help that the supporting characters are pretty much sketches for the majority of the novel, with Jay’s relationship with Parker the closest to achieving any depth and even that relies on a tired father figure cliché. It’s particularly noticeable in the scenes involving the extremist cell as none of the would-be jihadis really get much depth or explanation for why they’re following this path other than that they’re angry with how Muslims are treated in Britain. I was particularly disappointed with Amirah who’s the only woman in the group and who’s limited to being a potential love interest while her backstory is literally dealt with in a couple of sentences during the final chapters.

The major issue with the book though is the fact that it relies so heavily on contrivance both to set it up and to keep the plot moving and at times, I found it hard to look past that and keep turning the pages. Without going into spoilers, this is especially the case when it comes to Jay’s infiltration of the jihadi group and their acceptance of him, the reveal to which really doesn’t ring true when it comes.

That said, there are some neat lines in the book and there are parts where Rahman works hard to keep it real (a scene involving a brutal assault course being my particular favourite). All of this and a real cliff hanger of an ending means that I’m interested enough in Jay and his story to want to check out the next book.

EAST OF HOUNSLOW was released in the United Kingdom on 30th November 2017. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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