I first heard of Amer Anwar back in 2008 when he won the Crime Writer Association’s Debut Dagger Award. Back then the CWA used to put the winning entries up on the website for all to read and Amer’s was, in my humble opinion at least, better than most. It was a modern-day gangster type tale but with a difference. None of those cliched, shaven-headed goons one would get in a Guy Ritchie movie, instead this was a slice of Southall noir.
I’m a “writer” myself - well I say writer, but I don’t have a literary agent or a publisher, hence the inverted commas – and like Amer I’ve submitted material to the Debut Dagger. Unlike him however, I’ve never won. So, as his entry impressed me so, as with other winners of the award, I kept my eye open for his book. For surely now he had won, his novel would hit the bookshelves in a blaze of glory? Well I waited and I waited. What had happened? Was he mad? Had he given up and decided he didn’t like this writing malarkey after all? Nope, turns out that winning was just one battle amongst many. Turns out that the time between winning the competition and hitting the bookshelves isn’t necessarily a smooth, short road. But finally, it’s here: Western Fringes. Is it any good? Did it live up to my expectations? Well actually it did and some.
Western Fringes tells the story of Zaq Khan, a Muslim man recently released from prison for manslaughter who just wishes to get his life back on track. He works in a builders’ merchants as a delivery driver. That is until his boss, Mr Brar, calls him into his office and tells him he has to track down his daughter, or else. The Brars are Sikh and Rita (the daughter) has run off with a Muslim. This is unforgivable to the Brars. Her brothers, Parminder (Parm) and Rajinder (Raj) are local criminal hard cases and Zaq is soon feeling the pressure from the entire Brar clan.
Western Fringes is populated with a plethora of interesting supporting characters. There’s Jags, Zaq’s best friend; Rita, the Brar’s daughter and her friend Nina, the various thugs the Brar brothers are allied to. The plot quickly escalates and Zaq soon finds that locating Rita is the least of his troubles. Without giving spoilers this book touches on the drug trade, kidnapping, armed robbery, the tensions within the Asian community amongst the different ethnic groups, I could go on. All this is handled with admirable and impressive aplomb, so much so, I have to say that Western Fringes is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Returning to the first paragraph of this review, I’ve since learnt that like many writers (like myself I hope to be able to say one day) Amer has been on quite the journey to publication. On his blog, Amer tells us that Western Fringes went through seven drafts with his editor. I certainly know how that feels. The result is a brilliant book and one that he can be proud of. Now finally published, Amer can call himself a writer (without the inverted commas) and is an inspiration for those like myself who wish one day to follow in his footsteps.
5 out of 5 stars