CWA Debut Dagger Shortlist

All posts in the CWA Debut Dagger Shortlist category

Western Fringes – Amer Anwar

Published October 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE HARD-EDGED DEBUT THRILLER SET IN THE HEART OF WEST LONDON’S ASIAN COMMUNITY

A SIKH GIRL ON THE RUN. A MUSLIM EX-CON WHO HAS TO FIND HER. A WHOLE HEAP OF TROUBLE.
Southall, West London.
Recently released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put his past behind him.
But when he has to search for his boss’s runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he’s not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it’s too late? And if he does, can he keep her – and himself – alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

If you like gritty action, sharp dialogue and pacy plotting, then you’ll love this award winning action thriller from Amer Anwar.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Amer Anwar for providing me with a copy of his hard-hitting, award winning debut thriller in return for an honest review. When he reached out to me by email with a teasing glimpse of the synopsis I was instantly intrigued and knew it was a novel I had to get on board with. I have to admit it took me a little while to get into the story but there was a certain point in the narrative when the action ramped up extraordinarily and from then, I found myself hooked and completely invested in the novel until the end.

Our protagonist for the story is Zaq who has recently got out of prison with a fearsome reputation and is working a menial job for his boss, Mr Brar at a building supplies company. However, his life is about to change forever when Mr Brar calls him into his office one day (accompanied by his brutal sons, the “heavies,” Rajinder and Parminder). Mr Brar is a Sikh and his only daughter, Rita appears to have run off with a Muslim man, bringing shame and embarrassment on the family. He wants Zaq to find his daughter again with the least fuss and hullabaloo possible and threatens him with a return to prison if he does not co-operate. With the help of his loyal friend Jags, Zaq is instantly pulled into a murky criminal world of deception, extortion, violence and murder that puts him in an incredibly dangerous situation that could have deadly consequences for him, anyone that helps him and threaten the life of the woman he is working so hard to protect.

Western Fringes won the CWA Debut Dagger award and it’s easy to see why. The author focuses on the Asian community of Southall, West London and the vibrancy of their culture, tradition, religions and beliefs is portrayed beautifully. Of course, it’s crime fiction and this novel has a bitter and quite frightening dark side. In fact, I wasn’t in any way prepared for how dark the author was going to take it and although parts of the story were graphic and extremely horrific to read, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the plot and was at all times, compelled to see it through to the final pages. After a bit of a slow start, this novel became an easy page-turner for me although I did feel terribly sorry for the character of Zaq whom the author constantly subjected to a never-ending circle of violence and brutality! I approached this novel anticipating something a bit different and hoping to learn a few things about Asian culture/traditions and Western Fringes fulfilled all these things for me, personally speaking. Amer Anwar has a clear, obvious talent for writing an exciting, gritty plot and I look forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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Talking About Natural Causes by James Oswald with Chrissi

Published June 27, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When Edinburgh police find the killer of a prominent city elder less than twenty-four hours after the crime, they are justifiably pleased. So the murderer has killed himself; that just saves the time and cost of a trial. But a second murder days later bears haunting similarities to the first, even though once more the murderer swiftly confesses and kills himself.

Detective Inspector Anthony McLean is investigating the discovery of a dead girl, walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh mansion. She has been brutally murdered, her internal organs removed and placed around her in six preserving jars. The evidence suggests this all happened over sixty years ago, an attempt to re-enact an ancient ceremony that by trapping a demon in the dead girl’s body would supposedly confer immortality on the six men who took one of her organs each.

McLean’s grandmother – the woman who raised him after his parents were killed when he was a young boy – dies after months in a coma following a stroke. On top of this he has to investigate a series of unusual, violent suicides and a cat-burglar who targets the homes of the recently dead. But as another prominent Edinburgh businessman is killed, he begins to suspect that there may be a connection between the murders, the suicides and the ritual killing of the girl found in the basement. The same names keep cropping up. He just can’t find a rational explanation as to how that connection works.

As he digs deeper, and as the coincidences stack up, McLean is forced to consider an irrational explanation. Could there really be something evil stalking the city he has sworn to protect? And if so, how on earth can he hope to stop it? This title also appears on the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club 2013. Please see my previous post HERE.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you find the characters believable?
BETH:  Very much so. Our main character, Inspector McLean is not really one of those detectives that get a bit tiresome after a few crime novels that usually have an alcohol dependency problem! Instead, he seems quite human and “real,” and although he has had a troubled past, the reader grows to care about him and root for him capturing the baddie. I loved the way the author referred to one of the police officers as Grumpy Bob, and from then on only refers to them in those two words. I would have liked to see a bit more detail on the other characters, but this is a series, so maybe their time will come!

BETH: This novel is set in present-day Edinburgh, how effective was the use of setting to tell the story?
CHRISSI: I think Edinburgh is a beautiful place to set a story. I might be a bit biased there, because I have a lot of love for Edinburgh. I think Edinburgh is such a great place because it has such a lot of history.  So for me, it was an effective setting.

CHRISSI:  Did the plot pull you in, or did you feel forced to continue reading it?
BETH: The opening chapter is a bit of a blinder, and I challenge anyone to not want to continue reading after they start! The plot itself had many twists and turns, and there was certainly plenty to keep me interested, with a higher than average body count. I did feel when there was a slight drag to the novel, another body turned up to speed things up a little.

BETH: On the question of gore, how much is too much? Did this author get it right?
CHRISSI: I think this is a hard question because for every reader it’s going to differ. I think people with a very weak stomach may be put off. But on the other hand, you might wonder what on earth is going to happen next which was what happened with me. I did find the deaths to be quite graphic, but the deaths didn’t repeatedly happen so for me, the gore was balanced enough! For another reader though, the first chapter alone might be too much for them. It depends on the strength of your stomach or the vividness of your imagination.

CHRISSI: Did your opinion of the book change as you read it?
BETH: I don’t think so, it was easy to read, and kept me on the edge of my seat at times, but at other moments I felt like things might be getting overly complicated – it all worked out in the end though.

BETH: How did you find the more supernatural elements of the story? 
CHRISSI: For some reason, the supernatural elements of the story didn’t quite sit right with me. They seemed a little out of place. Luckily though, they’re not imperative to the story (yet, who knows if they will become imperative as the series progresses!) so you can take them or leave them when reading.

CHRISSI: The author adds his original opening chapter at the end of the book. Which one did you think was better? Do you think the opening chapter has enough to hook you into the story?
BETH: Hmm, I liked both equally I think, except that one was slightly more gruesome than the other. As mentioned above, I think the opening chapter has all the elements a good crime novel should have for an introduction to the events to come, and it definitely intrigued and interested me enough to want to read on.

BETH: How well did you feel the author did in writing his female characters?
CHRISSI: I think James Oswald’s strength lies in writing male characters. I didn’t think that the female characters were as well developed, but that might be something that changes as the series progresses.

CHRISSI: How did Natural Causes compare to other books in the genre?
BETH:  James Oswald is definitely an author to watch out for in the future. Stuart MacBride thinks he’s good, so that’s good enough for me! To compare it to other books in the genre, I think it stands well. Great characterisation, good plot, a bit of mystery, a nicely wrapped up ending, and PLENTY of gore-filled Hannibal Lecter-like moments.

BETH: Would you read the next book in this series?
CHRISSI: I don’t think I would unless you told me it was really good. I have nothing against the book, but I don’t feel compelled to read the next in the series.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes, to crime and gore fans.

BETH’s Star Rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

CHRISSI’s Star Rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art