Published by Point Blank Genres: Family Saga, Fiction, Thrillers
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Be twice as good as men and four times as good as white men.
Jia Khan has always lived like this.
A successful lawyer, her London life is a long way from the grubby Northern streets she knew as a child, where her father headed up the Pakistani community and ran the local organised crime syndicate. Often his Jirga rule - the old way - was violent and bloody, but it was always justice of a kind.
But now her father, Akbar Khan, has been murdered and Jia must return to take his place. In the past, the police relied on him to maintain the fragile order of the streets. But a power struggle has broken out amongst the various communities and now, nobody is safe.
Justice needs to be restored, and Jia is about to discover that justice always comes at a cost.
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Picture in your mind a modern British crime saga. I can guarantee what’s in your mind is a pretty stereotypical representation: expensive suits, fast cars, incomprehensible mutterings in loud clubs or dingy pubs while the women of the ‘family’ serve their purpose as an appealing combo of eye-candy/punchbag/betrayer. And short of a few ‘henchmen’, it’s White. Very, very White. So far, so boring. Refreshingly, journalist Saima Mir has cut through all that stodgy, tacky, buzz-cut attired bs to bring us The Khan.
Jia Khan oozes confidence. Confidence and money. As a high-level barrister in London, with her eyes set on the prize of becoming a high-court judge, she fears no man and gives no quarter. Surrounded by and dressed in the best money can by, you instantly know that Jia has reached this pinnacle with the aid of no one. However, there is also the underlying feeling that something is not quite right. Jia is missing her connection to the world around her, but rather than discover it of her own accord, she’s forced to confront her past and her future when returning for her sister’s wedding. Drawn back into the family business, Jia must ultimately step up and fulfil the role her father knew she was destined for.
Jia is the second child of the powerful Akbar Khan, leader of the Jirga a far-reaching organisation in the town of Bradford, northern England. Akbar is an immensely proud man, determined to raise his children to have the best of everything. As the dominant and well-respected ‘Khan’ of the city, the respect and influence he, his family and his associates have are far-reaching. But this is a modern city, filled with disaffected youth struggling to find a place in society, especially young Asian men. The Khan’s old ways have failed to address past riots and other social issues, leaving a void for others to step in. When Akbar’s youngest Benyamin becomes involved with one of these elements, it sets off a chain of events that leaves Jia with no choice. She must now become the very thing she moved away from Bradford to avoid.
One aspect of The Khan that really stood out is that not one character feels superfluous. Every person within the story – be it a member of the family or a character with simply a paragraphs contribution – they are effective and essential. Mir has created a fascinating array of people as varied and complex as the city they live in. Because of this, the narrative flows seamlessly, even in sections told in flashback, and you really get under the skin of everyone involved. Each member of the Khan family is an essential cog in the machine, even if first impressions say otherwise. The mix of older, traditional thinking characters mix well with the younger generation, an aspect that is so often missing from modern crime thrillers. (The ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ trope is thankfully absent here).
Mir has created characters so distinctive that at no point are you ever wondering who’s who. In a novel as complex as this one, that’s no mean feat. Make no mistake though, at its heart, The Khan is a novel about women and their true power. Jia’s mother Sanam stands out the most for me: stoical, quiet, influential and unbreakable she represents all the women in the novel. Women are at the heart of every community, no matter their wealth or position, and Mir emphasises that throughout the novel.
As the main character, Jia is complex and morally ambiguous, but Mir doesn’t over-emphasise the fact. There’s an air to Jia that makes her as mysterious and elusive to other characters as she is to the reader. Right to the end, you’re left guessing as to her true intentions, making Jia Khan one of the most well-imagined main characters I’ve come across in years.
The Khan is absolutely rammed with intrigue. Mir builds the saga up slowly – this is clearly a family full of secrets, resentment, envy and guilt – allowing the reader to unravel the knots without losing track of the plot. The use of flashback moments is well-placed, adding depth to the plot and characterisation. The tension hooks you in and as the pieces come together for an explosive finale, Mir’s writing and pacing elevate The Khan way above your average crime thriller.
But it’s in the depiction of South Asian life and society where The Khan really shines. Mir takes the reader on a journey through the rituals of Pashtun society without ever feeling condescending or ‘educating’ the reader. But this is an education – and a timely one. Novels such as this one need to be seen, read and promoted on a much larger scale. Mir highlights the injustices served upon young South Asian men through the racial profiling, discrimination and social issues that they have to endure on a daily basis. Mir never preaches though, as events depicted within the novel are done so organically and with such subtlety that before you realise it you are deeply empathising with each character suffering such inequality and abuse. Equally, the scenes depicting the happier side of South Asian life are filled with joy, often appealing to the senses as Mir writes about food preparation and other traditions surrounding the culture.
The Khan is an atmospheric and thoroughly gripping thriller filled with realism. It has been optioned by the BBC (hopefully for a short-form drama rather than a film) and I can’t wait to see it come to fruition. Not only does the novel feature a truly unique, strong, female protagonist it also gives a rarely seen look into the lives of Muslin families and their cultures. Diversity in fiction is vital, especially in the current climate, and it’s high time it came to a genre such as crime thrillers.
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