Crime Drama Books

The godmother of Yorkshire: Prathyush Parasuraman reviews ‘The Khan: I Am Justice’ by Saima Mir

The streets of Yorkshire are on the brink of a bloodbath. There is the Jirga, the crime syndicate led by Akbar Khan, the leader of the Pukhtun community. Then there is the new entrant, the Brotherhood — an East European mafia gearing up for a turf war. We are told that the two groups are fundamentally different. One of the characters says, “Whatever the Jirga did, we knew our children were safe. But these new guys, they have no code, no honour.” The Jirga’s code includes not harming children and respecting the elderly. If they weren’t gunning down men, you would have even considered them righteous.

Soon, Akbar Khan is murdered and his estranged daughter, Jia Khan, the heroine of the story, has to step in. In all this, the distinct flavour of Godfather is hard to miss, but Saima Mir infuses the genre’s trappings with gender and race. Through Jia she shows us what it means to be not just a woman but a Pukhtun woman running a syndicate of sexist males in a city rife with racism. Mir has such a compelling world at her service that the book’s failure to be either moving or engaging is that much more pronounced.

The central fatigue is the narrative voice — a distant, omniscient third person who languidly summarises characters and pivotal happenings, stressing more on implications than on events themselves. The problem with this casual treatment is that nothing feels at stake, and success feels perfunctory, even easy. When there is no narrative tension, the characters sway around in ether, eliciting neither concern nor support.

With Mir wanting us to be squarely on the side of the Jirga, this isn’t a nuanced portrait of crime life. The enemies are the East Europeans, and sometimes the state. This righteousness could have been good for a kind of compelling, quick-paced storytelling that jetpacks through plot points. Mir’s writing sparkles in the cracks when she submits to the pulpy quality of the story — for instance, when she notices how men don’t shower for sex-workers, or how “the application of lipstick gave a woman the space to gather her thoughts.”

But this is rarely employed. What we get instead is a stillness parading as character portraits woven around archaic, romanticised notions of honour and justice.

The Khan: I Am Justice; Saima Mir, Westland, ₹499

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 4:59:38 PM |

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