Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Review of East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (2017, HQ)

Javid – Jay to his friends – has been cruising through life as a small time dealer in West London. He keeps his head down, stays away from trouble, and goes to the mosque on Fridays, doing enough to get by but not attract attention. Just at the point where he’s bought the car of his dreams everything is turned upside down. The mosque is vandalised and Jay gets himself tangled up in a revenge attack while trying to protect a friend. During the fracas his car is stolen and with it the drugs and cash of a major supplier. Now Jay faces a tough choice, work for MI5 and rat on the supplier or be prosecuted for assault and face the consequence for the lost money. All MI5 want him to do is go undercover as a jihadist. Either way, his quiet life is over. 

East of Hounslow is the first book in the Jay Qasim series following the adventures of a small-time dealer turned reluctant MI5 agent. Rahman does a very nice job of flipping the everyday world of Jay from comfortable lad-about-town, who practises his Muslim religion and hustles to get by, to infiltrating an extremist cell who want jihad. It is the everydayness of the Muslim characters and their journey that adds an authenticity to the storytelling, though this feels a bit more paint-by-numbers with respect to the MI5 elements. Rahman portrays the lives of Muslims in Britain and how some become radicalised and many more do not without misbalancing the framing and plot. The dilemma set up provides a nice hook, and the plot unfolds at a nice pace with a couple of intriguing twists to a tense denouement. The ending seemed to unravel a little, with Jay more a bystander than a hero, but it overall the tale had a strong arc. Overall, a good blend of social and political commentary and thriller.


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