Amer Anwar- Western Fringes

Southall, West London.
Recently 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 his past behind him.
But when he has to search for his boss’s runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he’s not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge…

Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award, Western Fringes marks the start of an incredibly promising crime thriller writing career for Amer Anwar. This one of the most vibrant and edgy crime thrillers I have encountered for some time. From the very start of the book, I was completely immersed in the trials and tribulations of central protagonist Zaq Khan, who through the fickle finger of fate finds himself entangled in a very dangerous situation indeed. Subject to blackmail and intimidation, he is tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of his boss’s errant daughter, Rita, who has ostensibly run away from an impending forced marriage. Finding himself at odds with his boss, Rita’s two meat-headed brothers, and ghosts from the past seeking to inflict some serious physical damage upon him, Zaq needs to be resourceful, cunning and more than a little devious to survive this trial by fire…

Zaq is a truly likeable and engaging character, who immediately gets the reader on side with his mix of easy humour, craftiness, and genuine good guy demeanour. Anwar instils him with a honesty and charm that has you rooting for him from the outset, as pressure is brought to bear on him from all angles. He’s fast-talking and quick thinking, and despite the hole he finds himself in does not lose his keen sense of morality to extricate Rita, and by extension, himself, from a nasty situation.  I loved his interactions with his best mate Jags, and the solid camaraderie that exists between them, despite the twist in fate that sees their lives having progressed on two very different courses. I also admire Jags’ natural ability to act as a second mother to Zaq in terms of tea-making and painkiller providing as his mate gets into a succession of scrapes, and is always happy to play second fiddle to Zaq’s suicidal plans. This has to be one of the greatest friendships forged in crime fiction, and is a constant source of delight throughout. Anwar’s band of bad boys, out for Zaq’s blood are equally well depicted, slow, dull-witted, and handy with their fists, and allowing for some exciting and very well written fight scenes, where there is a realistic and palpable pain. There’s nothing worse than a fight scene where everyone is seemingly unmarked by the experience, and boy, does Zaq take some punishment.

Set around the environs of Southall and its Asian community, the life, colour, languages and atmosphere of this area shines through Anwar’s depiction of its inhabitants. The sights, sounds and delicious aromas of the area bring a vibrancy and liveliness to his descriptions, and gives the reader a real sense of the connections between our main protagonists and their community. The plotting is assured, and I liked the way that Anwar leads us in a seemingly linear direction, which is entertaining enough, but then pulls a couple of startling revelations that take the story in a different direction indeed. The pace is perfectly controlled, and I genuinely found this incredibly hard to put down, as it is punctuated by a glorious mix of fast visceral action, a dash of heart-warming interactions, a further sprinkling of violence and chicanery, and then a steady build up of misdirection to an exciting, and not altogether predictable ending.

I absolutely loved Western Fringes, and having become a little jaded with the British-set crime thriller scene of late, this gave me a right old flying by the seat of my pants reading experience, which seemed fresh and exciting. A cracking new voice on the thriller scene, and yes, I can’t wait to see what Amer Anwar produces next. Pure brilliant and highly recommended.

(With many thanks to the author for the ARC)

 

Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

cover_9781609453367_661_600A robbery goes wrong and ends with a brutal murder. The police investigation turns up nothing. Two years later, Marco Buratti, alias ‘the Alligator,’ is asked to look into the crime and find out who was responsible. Buratti’s employer is young, the youngest client he has ever had; he is only 12 years old, the son of one of the victims. The Alligator senses right from the start that the truth is cloaked, twisted and shocking. Together with his trusted associates he will find himself mixed up in a story of contraband gold and blood vendettas between criminal gangs.

Massimo Carlotto is undoubtedly one of the most astute observers of the criminal and social dynamics of his native Italy. For All The Gold In The World featuring series regular Marco Buratti aka The Alligator, Carlotto once again takes the opportunity to fix his unique gaze on the complexity of his homeland.

In another taut investigation, unlicensed private investigator Buratti and his shady cohorts Beniamino Rossini and Max The Memory, are drawn into a tale of greed and murder following a particularly violent home invasion leaving the mother of a now vulnerable twelve year old boy dead. What Carlotto so brilliantly achieves in this book is an interesting exploration of his main characters’ barometer of morality. For three men who have indulged in criminal activity themselves and are no strangers to violence, there is something really quite touching about their willingness to take on this particular case, but balanced with the inherent buzz of danger that begins to embroil them as the investigation progresses. The main plot is underscored by the periodic authorial intervention of Carlotto himself, passing comment on the socio-political make-up of Italy, and providing an insider’s view of the layers of corruption that exist between the higher echelons of Italian power through to the world of law enforcement. This adds a richness of detail to the overall book, and works in perfect symmetry with the utterly compelling thriller that Carlotto has constructed.

I am a confirmed fan of both Marco Buratti and Carlotto’s other regular series character Giorgio Pellegrini, so for reasons unexplained this book gives a delicious pointer to things to come. Buratti is a man of contradictions, with his inherent violent masculinity that we see in his ‘day-job’, working in tandem with a sometimes apparent sensitivity in the personal sphere of his life. He has a huge obsession with the Blues, and Carlotto enlivens the book further with musical references and Buratti’s night visits to a local jazz club, whilst investigating the activities of a possibly philandering wife for an anxious husband. With Buratti being Buratti, this spawns an inevitable love interest for him, but once again affords Carlotto the opportunity to explore a deeper emotional side of Buratti’s character. There is also the wonderful dynamic of Buratti with his criminal cohorts Rossini and Max that not only demonstrates the solidity of their masculine fraternity, but also at perfect intervals allows us to witness their easy humour, and the emotional scars that they all bear. This exploration of ‘maleness’ is a recurrent strength of Italian crime fiction I find, and Carlotto is one of the masters.

Quite simply, this is gritty and edgy Italian noir at its best, with its vibrant and unflinching mix of violence and criminality, underscored by superb exploration of character and a wider focus on society as a whole. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)