Review: East of Hounslow

The Plot: Jay is a low-level drug dealer from Hounslow. Although he attends Mosque on Friday, he isn’t a strict believer like his childhood friend Parvez. However, when his mosque is vandalised, he accompanies Parvez on a mission to get revenge. Little does Jay know that MI5 have been watching him. He’s the perfect person for an undercover mission and his involvement with Parvez, not to mention the money he owes his supplier, means Jay has very little choice but to comply with MI5’s demands. He finds himself undercover far from Hounslow and has to navigate his faith, family and friends, reconciling them with his beliefs in right and wrong.

My Review: This is truly one of those books you can’t put down. The short chapters and plot twists leave you craving more. Partitioning the novel to have jumps in time and having the last few chapters on a countdown, also ensures the novel is well paced to draw readers in.

Jay is a very relatable character and it’s easy to see how he could be radicalised. His character shines through the first chapter, which is very impressive – it must’ve been great hook for publishers and agents! Although far-fetched, the MI5 angle made this book stand out and it was done quite convincingly.

My main highlight is the point of view. The book is mainly told in 1st person past tense by Jay. Although it makes you question when he’s telling the story from, it keeps the scenes well paced and lets you get inside his head. There are several chapters that show the point of view of other characters, but these are in the 3rd person so Jay still appears as the central character. The transitions are very smooth so this is a very successful technique deployed by author, Khurrum Rahman.

The problem with such a fast paced novel, which has short chapters, is that it makes the reader pay attention to every scene. It’s easy to question why the author has told the story in this way as you can see the novel as a storyboard. There are a couple of scenes that, as an editor, I would have deleted….

  1. I guess this is more than a scene but  Jay’s mum conveniently leaving for Qatar was an obvious plot device to get her out of the way, so it didn’t feel naturalistic. I felt the plot would’ve broadly remained the same if she had stayed in London. Plus, her character could’ve been more fully realised, which would’ve helped make one of the twists more emotional.
  2. The Christmas rendezvous between Parker and Lawrence (MI5 agents) felt unrealistic and unnecessary. It had little bearing on the subsequent plot so their animosity could’ve just stayed a minor sub plot, without resolution (or maybe there could’ve been a climax/resolution at Oxford Street?).
  3.  The final scene with Amirah alludes to her reasons for joining the cause. Perhaps I missed this but I would’ve liked a small hint of it in an intimate scene with her and Jay. Maybe a throwaway line when they’re in the café or car together?
  4. Idris walking to the police station is a nice bit of writing but seems unnecessary to the plot. Either have that scene with Jay as he walks down the street or delete. For some reason, Idris’s POV in that section felt unsettling.

As a criticism, I felt Jay’s voice was a bit unnatural at times. Despite the strong opening that really displayed his character, some of his observations felt like the author trying to cram in some description. For example, ‘Khan, after giving me an arrogant smile, nodded acquiescently’ sounds odd from Jay’s point of view (p37). I was also bothered by the number of exclamation points. This book has about 30… at a guess… because it’s told in Jay’s voice, you can sort of forgive them, but it seemed very excessive. There’s even an exclamation point in the acknowledgements, so you can tell that it’s a tick of the writer. I’m very surprised an editor didn’t remove half of them.

Finally, the ending… I literally screamed! It was unexpected, yet well foreshadowed. Beautiful but brutal. A wonderful note to end a wonderful book.