Super, super excited to kick off the blog tour for this novel. I actually read this whilst staying in London, taking my daughter to London fashion week. Every so often I would pop up from reading and say to my daughter “I think this one, will win an award or two”. It really is that good! I can’t recommend this highly enough and it is one of only 9 books so far this year to make the 5* Genius list!
An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?
For a long time, I have been screaming for more diversity in novels and more novels that actually represent a society I live in! Well Imran Mahmood, very much delivers with his debut novel! I am aware, as is the author, (See author’s note) that some people may accuse him of using stereotypes but I discredit this on the basis that the facts, out-there exist. They indicate exactly what is explained & expanded upon in the novel. I would urge any reader put off by any such comments to give it a go. Because I think the novel will more than surprise you with its emotional and intellectual depth.
Imran Mahmood is a criminal Barrister and I have a daughter who has had a deep desire to be one and has for a very long time. My daughter often points out to me the law & justice are not about whether you did the crime or not. It is about what can be proved in court! This novel also details the currents legal system and that justice should be delivered equally. Juries are intended to be a group of the defendant’s peers, yet time & time again the system fails young men and in particular young men of the BAME community. When I read novels, to review, I keep notes. With this novel I had overall 57 points notes and a separate list of Jury notes. This novel will place you firmly in the place of a Jury member & it is one case you will NOT forget!
The novel opens up as the defendant (we never learn his name) stands accused of shooting & murdering a young gang member named Jamil. This seems an open & shut case based upon the scientific & circumstantial evidence. However, right at the last moment the defendant sacks his lawyer and proceeds to give his closing speech which in turn, is his side of the story and the basis of this novel. There are 8 pieces of evidence stacked against the defendant and my initial thoughts were that he is guilty, that is, until he begins his speech. The speech is incredibly moving and I truly felt sorry for the narrator’s plight. He comes across as another young, vulnerable black male trying desperately to navigate his way through the gang culture, degradation & low prospects that north London & Camden town has to offer him. He talks of a childhood marred by domestic violence & a broken home, with little hope. But despite this, he is aware that he is surrounded by strong & caring women, whom he strives to protect.
The novel has brilliant characterisation, all of the characters have huge detail and background story’s, of how or why they came to be involved in the case. There are many moving themes such as: loss of boyhood in adolescent due to growing up way too quickly, the degradation of drug addiction, the dangers/risks of knife crime and the harshness of criminal sentencing, is well & truly rammed home. Yet the characters are likeable and believable. The characters Curt for example reminded me of someone I personally grew up with. Who was heavily bullied, despite his huge size, yet refused categorically, to fight back! The gang mentality is a heavy theme within this novel the structure & hierarchy of gangs, yet there are moments, of great wisdom such as: “people don’t just want to pick fights that they can win, they want to pick fights that they can win easily” and my personal favourite “book people are weird, trust me”. This novel merges the old skool gangs with the modern technology assisted, legal savvy, youth of today! It depicts how one man, namely the defendant can be a magnet for trouble and be chewed up & spat out by the gang’s influence!
I absolutely loved this novel. I found it to be raw, urban and edgy! Like nothing on the UK book market currently. It depicts life lessons and a different perspective. Essentially you can engage with a novel where people may not look like you or live like you, yet you fully embrace their character.
If only we gave real people, this level of understanding in society! 5* Genius!
Q) For the readers, can you give a summary of yourself and your novel?
A) I’m a barrister by trade (over 25 years now!) and my novel opens with a young defendant on trial for murder. He has just sacked his barrister (at the point of closing speeches) and now has to do his closing speech himself. The novel is his speech and in it he takes the reader through all the evidence that is against him and attempts to explain it all away! The reader is in the position of a juror and the defendant addresses the reader directly.
Q) Diversity in reading is all out ‘must have’ for me. I am a huge fan of a wide range of authors who write diverse characters such as Joe Ide, Walter Mosley and M.P Wright. I love books that reflect that actual society I live in and characters from all walks of life. Majority of the authors whom write diverse novels are from the USA. So for me it was brilliant to see You Don’t Know Me in the British crime fiction genre. What are your thoughts on diversity in reading? Also in the genre of crime fiction?
A) Wanting ‘diversity’ in culture is really just a way of saying that we want our perspectives to be broader and more generous. It is crucial in my opinion for under-represented classes to be identifiable in wider culture. If people can recognise themselves in the arts, in media, in literature, they begin to feel invested in society. And the same is true in reverse. The more difference that we are exposed to regularly, the less we will identify it as difference. All people become part of our identity. Part of the problem of gangs is this lack of identity in the wider culture and a lack of a stake in society. I wanted to people in YDKM to think about the people they ‘DON’T KNOW’ and see what they could do to know them better.
Q) As I was aware when reading the novel, you are a criminal barrister by profession. The novel is legal centred, putting the reader almost as if a member of the jury. What was the inspiration behind this? Does being in the legal profession generate a multitude of plots?
A) Most people are fascinated by the criminal justice system. There is so much at stake usually, not least the liberty of the individual. And whilst many people are fascinated by the jury system most will never serve on a jury. I wanted to give the reader an idea of what it might be like to serve on a jury and to get a taste for the kind of dilemmas that an ordinary jury faces in an ordinary case. There are very rarely any ‘easy’ cases. Most have loose ends and this feeling of never being able to know everything is at the heart of the juror’s dilemma. I also wanted to explore the nature of truth. If I don’t believe what you tell me – does that make it untrue? If not, how does the ability to persuade factor in a qualitative assessment of truth? Is there something more important than legal relevance? The protagonist in YDKM was telling us that for him it was more important for him to be understood. Was he right?
Being a barrister does not for me generate plots but it does help me to look at peoples lives in a unique way. I see people in times of high tension and often in dire need. I see their lives and their motivations and I feel privileged to be able to do so. So although it doesn’t give me endless plots, it allows me to be connected to peoples lives that are very different from mine. I think it tethers me to realism in a way that otherwise I couldn’t replicate.
Q) One thing I absolutely loved about your novel, was that it asked the reader to think of life from someone else’s perspective. It was very cleverly done on both an emotional level and an intellectual level. What was the idea behind this? Why did you decide to include this theme?
A) I have always thought (and taught) that a good closing speech should tackle every case on at least 3 levels, on a legal level, a logical level and on an emotional one. I wanted the defendant to use the same linguistic tools that a criminal barrister might use and see what happened. In his case, his strongest argument was the emotional one and I wanted to see whether if he could connect with the reader on an emotional level, the reader might begin to react to him in a way that surprised him/her.
Q) What are your favourite reads, in childhood, teenage years and adulthood?
A) As a child I loved Enid Blyton. Even when she wasn’t specifically writing about something magical or fantastical her books always had a feeling of otherness for me. She spoke about things which might have been ordinary to a lot of people but were completely new to me. In the Famous 5 stories she spoke about boarding schools (what are they?) cottages (I had never seen one), fields, rowing boats, wells, meadows. All kinds of things that I had never experienced. For me the magic was right there, in the lives of these characters that were so different from my Liverpool childhood.
In teenage years I found and fell in love with To Kill A Mockingbird. There’s nothing more to say about that. It, for me, is perfection.
And in adulthood I found myself digging into Donna Tartt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Vikram Seth, Yann Martell, Amin Maalouf and so so many others. I’ve recently read the brilliant Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing – what a talent!
*Huge thanks to Imran Mahmood for joining in with a Q&A with my blog.
Photo credit: Bill Waters
The novel is available via pre-order on Amazon and released on 4th May 2017.