Written by Amer Anwar — The CWA Debut Dagger award has been encouraging new writers to enter the genre for 15 years now. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents, and the shortlisted entries are sent to publishers and agents.
Amer Anwar won the accolade in 2008 after submitting the first 3000 words of this book. Nine years later, Western Fringes is a real life, full-length novel! Set in Southall, on the western fringes of London, this is a standalone tale with its roots deep in the local Asian community.
Ex-con Zaq Khan is in a dead end job after his release from a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter. An unlucky punch in a fight outside a pub left a man dead and Zaq’s life in ruins. Now all he wants to do is keep his head down and earn a crust as a delivery man for a building supplies company; unfortunately, his boss has other ideas…
Mr Brar has two sons and a daughter, and while the male members of the family are widely disliked and feared, it is Rita who is causing him problems. She is Sikh and on the run, and rumour has it that Rita is with a Muslim man. She must be found before the family is brought to shame and, apparently, Zaq is just the man to do it.
Before his fall from grace, Zaq had a degree and a good job to go with it. Now he works for a pittance, has a reputation as a hard man and will do anything to keep out of jail, so the Brar family know just which buttons to press. It’s an offer Zaq can’t turn down – find Rita, or they’ll frame him for theft and assault and he will end up behind bars once more.
Thus begins our reluctant detective’s quest, aided by his best mate Jags, who works from home and can easily fix some free time to support his buddy and make him endless cups of tea. In fact, Jags is pretty much the mother figure of this story. The trouble is that aforementioned hardman reputation means Zaq is seen as a target for anyone wanting to show off their fighting skills and, as he discovers on numerous occasions, it’s hard to be hot of the trail of a missing girl when you are nursing myriad injuries.
This is a strange ol’ book. It starts off brightly, slows to walking pace until about halfway through and then sets off at a gallop to a well executed finale. Zaq, Jags and a large cast of supporting characters are all neatly put together and I enjoyed the glimpse of life in Southall – a part of London I’ve never visited or really given much thought to before. It’s clear that the author knows the area intimately and he passes that affection on to us in a book that thankfully tempers its moments of sheer brutality with some lighter episodes that will have you smiling. Prepare for plenty of action and a fair few twists in a dastardly plot.
This debut has been a long time coming but I think the CWA’s faith in it was well grounded. There are precious few crime books that focus on the British Asian community and I’d imagine there are even fewer set in Southall! Let’s hope this is the start of a long writing career for Amer Anwar.
CFL Rating: 4 stars