People of Asian descent make up about five per cent of the UK population, yet when we set up Crime Fiction Lover six years ago not a single British Asian crime author was being promoted by publishers. They sent us press releases for all sorts of other authors, but for some reason they weren’t printing books by people from this ethnic group. It was, and still is, easier to find crime books translated from Norwegian than it is to find ones by British Asians.
That doesn’t seem right. Asians have done so well in more highbrow literature that it can’t be a question of talent.
Two years later, in 2013, Abir Mukherjee won a crime writing competition and we ran a story about that, still pondering why British Asians just weren’t being represented. Yes, you’d see plenty of writers from this group in the literature section – so why not crime? The answers lies in the marketing strategies of publishers. ‘No-one wants to read about a Pakistani detective,’ is one of the things they would tell Asian authors trying to crack the scene.
How wrong they were. The following year, we discovered Rosie Claverton’s Amy Lane series and the door seemed to be cracking open for authors from this background. Today – at last – British Asian crime writers are beginning to thrive. We’ve talked to six of them about their books and their experiences entering the crime fiction marketplace, and it’s fascinating to discover what inspires them. We’re certain the multiple viewpoints these authors bring will enrich the genre.
And yet, although there are eight British Asian authors we can point you towards below, the words of Amarjit Dhillon, publisher at Edurus Books, suggest there’s still a call for greater diversity. “British Asian authors are still somewhat under-represented in crime, as well most other genres. Eight isn’t that many when you think of how many crime and thriller authors there are otherwise,” he says.
Read on and find out what this talented and interesting group of new crime authors has to offer…
With her inside-out understanding of cyber crime and hi-tech themes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rosie Claverton used to work for the Kremlin. Her heroine is Amy Lane, an agoraphobic hacker who lives in Cardiff and collaborates with ex-con Jason Carr to catch killers using the tech tools at her disposal. Rosie is half-Sri Lankan and writes largely about white characters, though second-generation Indian doctor Indira Bharani brings an element of the British Asian experience to the proceedings. “I love themes of identity and I think that does stem from being a mixed-race author. I feel there’s a weird tension for writers of colour – and other writers from marginalised groups – that centres around ‘should I write about people like me?'” says Rosie.
Raised in Glasgow, Abir Mukherjee now works in finance, in London. At the same time, his star has steadily been rising in the world of crime fiction since winning a writing competition run by the Telegraph and Harvill Secker in 2013. His talent was developed by the crime publisher’s editor Alison Hennessey and in 2016 Abir’s first novel arrived. A Rising Man combines his Indian heritage through the 1920s Calcutta setting, along with his admiration of writers like Ian Rankin via his British policeman Sam Wyndham. Earlier this year, Wyndham’s story continued in A Necessary Evil. Both are recommended reading.
“I think it’s no coincidence that there are so many brilliant writers from British Asian backgrounds coming through at the moment. What’s great though, is that we are all telling very different types of stories, from historical fiction to up-to-the-minute cybercrime,” says Abir.
Buy A Rising Man here
Like Abir Mukherjee, Vaseem Khan grew up in the UK but has turned to his Indian roots for inspiration in his crime writing. He moved to India and stayed there from 1997 to 2007, and everything about the place has fed into his delightful series featuring Inspector Chopra and his baby elephant companion, Ganesh. Vaseem’s books have likened to Alexander McCall-Smith’s No1 Ladies Detective Agency, not just because of the post-colonial setting but because of the British influence on his mode of storytelling. “I lived in India for a decade,” says Vaseem. “Harnessing that visceral experience, and putting it together with my heritage – both Indian and British – seemed a great formula for writing the sort of fiction I wanted to – crime fiction. The result has been something I hope is given life and colour by the Indian part of my heritage, but finely attuned to British sensibilities.”
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is the place to start, and you can read our review here. The latest is The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star.
Buy The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra here
Amer Anwar’s debut novel Western Fringes took us by surprise. There’s little out there that looks at the experience of living in a place like Southall, West London, from an Asian perspective whether in crime fiction or otherwise. Amer’s large cast of characters are neatly put together and include Sikhs and Muslims, and there’s a real sense of place as ex-con turned unwilling detective Zaq Khan and his buddy Jags search for a missing young woman called Rita. “One of the reasons I wrote Western Fringes was because there wasn’t really anything in the crime genre at the time that reflected the people and places I knew. West London – and Southall and Hounslow in particular – has a large, vibrant Asian community, full of great characters and stories, the perfect area to set a contemporary urban thriller,” says Amer.
Like Abir Mukherjee, Amer Anwar’s talent was first noticed when he won an award – the 2008 CWA Debut Dagger. Nine years later we have finally been able to review Western Fringes and it’s well worth it.
Buy Western Fringes here
In November 2016, Alex Caan’s debut Cut to the Bone arrived on the bookshelves, introducing us to an elite police team headed by American expat DCI Kate Riley and DS Zain Harris, who is described as a poster boy for multiracial policing. With a YouTube star kidnapped, and the angle of crime through social media explored, it’s edgy, modern stuff and the book’s been receiving excellent reviews on Amazon. In 2018, his second book will arrive and in First to Die we’ll see how Riley and Harris deal with the outbreak of a deadly pathogen in London. Alex is from an IT background and is currently taking Terrorism Studies at St Andrews, to boot.
“I remember when I started, agents and publishers telling me how difficult it was to place an Asian author with an Asian lead in mainstream fiction, and it was even more difficult if the hero was Muslim. People were still scared about fatwas, I guess. I think more than that, mainstream fiction, which crime fiction is, really hasn’t seen this sort of novel before. Thankfully, my agent, the wonderful Luigi Bonomi, wasn’t fazed by any of this and loved my work and took me on,” says Alex.
Buy Cut to the Bone here
When you say ‘British Asian’ people automatically assume you’re talking about someone whose roots originate on the Indian subcontinent. Adi Tantimedh brushes aside that preconception. He is half-Thai, half-Chinese, British educated and 100 per cent crime writer. His latest novel, Her Nightly Embrace, was released this month and it features a private detective called Ravi Chandra Singh, of the London investigations agency Golden Sentinels. His colleagues are a very mixed bag – ex-cops, a techie, a publicist, a stoner, a hacker and more. Keeping things low-key is one of the challenges, the other is the bizarre problems rich and famous people come to them with. Adi now lives in the States and has been writing graphic novels and film scripts. Zinky Boys Go Underground won a BAFTA for best short film in 1995. Getting back to his writing, Adi says: “I do consider the Ravi book British, and its take on genre to be very British in its satirical and sarky outlook. The series is intended as a look at the UK’s place in the geopolitical landscape through the prism of the private detective and spy genres.”
Buy Her Nightly Embrace here
Two more British Asian authors to look out for are Imran Mahmood and Amit Dhand. We don’t claim this feature to be comprehensive. If you’ve discovered an interesting author who should be in this group please post details in the comments below.