Raven Round Up- Vaseem Khan, A. A. Dhand, Sairish Hussain, John Barlow and the 2021 Booker Longlist.

July has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster all in all, with some rather unexpected and not altogether welcome personal news, a landmark birthday, big, let’s not dwell on it, and the 20th anniversary of my bookselling career. A shout out to all the amazing underpaid and absolutely committed booksellers I’ve worked with over the years, whose passion and joy for books have made my bookselling life so enjoyable! Big love. 

Bit of a mixed bag all round this month really, but the book love remains unabated, and here are some of the goodies I have been reading this month. All of of these I bought myself, so nice to give them a little spin in the spotlight, and I loved both my blog tour books this month too, Jérôme Leroy- Little Rebel (tr. Graham Roberts) and Will Carver- The Beresford from two amazing independent publishers Corylus Books and Orenda Books. 

So July’s pick of the crop are: 

For over a century, one of the world’s great treasures, a six-hundred-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, has been safely housed at Bombay’s Asiatic Society. But when it vanishes, together with the man charged with its care, British scholar and war hero, John Healy, the case lands on Inspector Persis Wadia’s desk. Uncovering a series of complex riddles written in verse, Persis – together with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch – is soon on the trail. But then they discover the first body. As the death toll mounts it becomes evident that someone else is also pursuing this priceless artefact and will stop at nothing to possess it . . . 

There is absolutely no doubt that Vaseem Khan’s The Dying Day will claim in a place in my Top Ten of the Year, being a superb follow up to Midnight At Malabar House, which also appeared in my final round up of 2020. Persis Wadia is a fantastic character, being an intelligent, astute and utterly focussed female police officer, grappling with the natural misogyny that arises from her position, but also for the layers of personal tribulation that Khan builds into her character. Coupled with this, Khan has constructed a mystery that is blindingly clever and intricate that will appeal to all bibliophiles, centred on the theft of a literary treasure. There are riddles and ciphers along the way, that not only test Persis and her colleagues, but will also baffle and misdirect the reader too, leading to a rich and rewarding reading experience. Khan also demonstrates his trademark precision in his rendering of the historical detail of the period, giving the reader a real sense of India emerging from the suffocation of British rule, and finding its feet in a new era, not wholly untroubled by violence and division. I completely loved The Dying Day from start to finish, and came out of the other side of it totally sated by not only the characterisation, but also the feeling of having read a truly satisfying and intriguing crime mystery. Wholeheartedly recommending this one to you all.

The Dying Day is published by Hodder and Stoughton. 

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The last thing Jack Baxi expected when a detective rang his doorbell in the middle of the night was that he’d be tortured and left for dead, with a young woman he’s never met before. Now, running for their lives, Jack and Aisha frantically try to discover why the detective was so convinced they both have information on a missing person. Jack is a Sikh corner shopkeeper with a criminal record. Aisha is a Muslim medical student from a wealthy family. What could possibly connect them? Their desperate hunt for answers will take them on a perilous journey, from the sprawling underground markets and dangerous red-light district of Delhi all the way to the most militarized zone in India. But little do they know, a dangerous organisation is watching their every move – and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Jack and Aisha learning the truth . . .

Being a confirmed fan of Harry Virdee series set in Bradford, I did have a slight feeling of trepidation at the prospect of a stand alone from A. A. Dhand as sometimes these can feel a little unsatisfying. But have no fear, as Dhand has produced a genuinely blistering paced and exciting thriller spanning two continents, and more va va voom than you can poke a stick at. I fair raced through this one, as Dhand totally hooks the reader at the end of each chapter with a mini cliff-hanger that entices the reader to one more chapter, and then one more chapter, making putting the book aside entirely futile. Both Jack, our erstwhile hero and Aisha, a young girl who gets sucked into the mystery are perfectly characterised, and Jack in particular is painted as not wholly good and not wholly bad which makes him and his shifting moral compass an extremely interesting aspect of the book. I heard an interview with Dhand saying that he had physically walked the Indian locations himself, and this shines through in the authenticity and atmosphere that he injects into the depiction of the locations too. The Blood Divide is a bloody and brutal ride packed full of betrayal and double, triple crossing, leaving the reader breathless and unnerved in equal measure, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Recommended.

The Blood Divide is published by Transworld Publishers. 

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Amjad cradles his baby daughter in the middle of the night. He has no time to mourn his wife’s death. Saahil and Zahra, his two small children, are relying on him. Amjad vows to love and protect them always. Years later, Saahil and his best friend, Ehsan, have finished university and are celebrating with friends. But when the night turns dangerous, its devastating effects will ripple through the years to come. Zahra is now her father’s only source of comfort. Life has taken her small family in different directions – will they ever find their way back to each other?
I also loved The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain- a multi generational story of a British-Muslim family spanning thirty years that had me completely mesmerised. Such was the poise and strength of Hussain’s characters that I became completely invested in them, as she puts them through the emotional wringer, giving a rich and authentic portrayal of their experiences, both the sadness and the joy. There is  tragedy, grief and heartbreak, but you leave the book feeling their resilience and fortitude. Although I always think it’s a reviewing cliche to say that characters stay with you, in the case of this book I think that’s totally true, as they are still popping into my head a few weeks on from finishing this one. Beautiful writing and a poignant and unforgettable book, shrouded in tragedy, but also alive with hope and redemption bolstered by its perceptive commentary and exploration of the bigoted and less pleasant aspects of multi-cultural Britain. Recommended.
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Wortley, West Leeds. On a Thursday night in February, DS Joe Romano finds himself back on home turf. He’s following up on the disappearance of drug-dealer Craig Shaw. It’s the start of a case that could make or break Romano’s career. Because Shaw is about to go from missing to murdered. While some don’t think Shaw’s killer should be brought to justice, Romano believes every life counts. But he’s running out of time. The killer is ready to strike again. And Romano will be forced to question whether anyone has the right to kill.
In the run up to publication I saw a lot of love for this police procedural on social media, so it was complete no-brainer that John Barlow’s Right To Kill was a must purchase from the get go. A vigilante appears to be at work on DS Joe Romano’s patch, and the clock is ticking in this pressurised investigation. Not only is Romano a very likeable and rounded character, but Barlow also teams him up in the investigation with the larger than life detective Rita Scannon, who adds a real injection of straight talking tenacity and humour to the whole affair. On the whole this is a nicely plotted police procedural, and Barlow sprinkles the plot with a good amount of interesting historical detail of Yorkshire along the way, pinpointing local rivalries and animosity, the differing socio-economic make up of the areas, and giving an illuminating picture of the different communities. Although for me personally the killer was a little to clearly signposted, I think this is a solid start to a hopefully longer running series, and Right To Kill was a very enjoyable read. Recommended.
Finally, July marked the announcement of the The 2021 Booker Prize longlist and as usual a different and intriguing line up. Despite the abject disappointment of Jon McGregor not making the longlist with the quite frankly brilliant Lean Fall Stand  there’s a few tempters here. Prior to the announcement I’d read three of the books, which haven’t really stood out as winners, but especially looking forward to reading The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris /Bewilderment by Richard Powers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. Hope the unwelcome personal news gets resolved for you.
    I’m equally baffled by the absence of Lean, Fall, Stand from the Booker list. Did the judges really not read this book – if they did, how could they not have seen its brilliance?

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