Wednesday, 8 September 2021

The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

This was another recommendation from the Red Hot Chilli Writers podcast, and another highly enjoyable read.

In writing his debut novel, theatre director Ajay Chowdhury was mentored by the brilliant Abir Mukherjee. Like his mentor, he has set his crime novel partly in Kolkata, but his is contemporary Kolkata.

In fact, the story divides between Kolkata and London, where disgraced police officer Kamil Rahman is working (illegally) as a waiter in a restaurant on Brick Lane. But when the host of a party catered by Kamil’s boss is found dead by his swimming pool and the host’s wife becomes the obvious suspect, Kamil’s detective skills are called on to prove her innocence.

The novel moves between the London murder and another in Kolkata – the one that lost Kamil his job and drove him to London under a cloud of suspicion. And as the narrative spools out, the two cases begin to look increasingly connected.

The settings give the narrative two distinctly different tones, and like two strands of a piece of music, they blend to make the whole richer. The portrayals of both London and Kolkata feel contemporary and very real.

Chowdhury’s characters – especially Kamil and his London ‘partner’, his boss’s daughter, the irrepressible Anjoli – are a delight. I really hope we are going to see more of this partnership, because it feels as if it has so much further to go.

I am also enjoying the way that some of recent Crime novelists are rediscovering the amateur detective. I love a police procedural as much as the next Crime Fiction reader, but the joy of the classic amateur detective was always that they could go where no policeman could. Like Amer Anwar’s Zaq and Jags, Kamil and Anjoli can slide into places the police could never penetrate. Kamil, in particular, takes full advantage of a waiter’s invisibility - listening and observing without ever being fully seen. A clever, clever choice of role for his main character.

There is plenty of humour here too - for example, in Kamil’s wry observations of Brick Lane’s hipster clientele. (“It wasn’t my fault, but these white people, with their nose rings and tattoos, all looked the same to me.”)

All in all, a great new addition to the contemporary crime genre - can't wait to read more from this author.  

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Amer Anwar, Abir Mukherjee, Vaseem Khan

Avoid If You Dislike: Morally ambiguous endings

Perfect Accompaniment:
Ilish Masher Jhol (Bengali fish curry with mustard oil)

Genre: Crime

Buy This Book Here:

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Splinters of Sunshine by Patrice Lawrence

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

Dandelions close at night and open again in the morning, like they’re holding in the sunshine. Some dandelions have two hundred petals. The most I ever counted was a hundred and eighty. It’s like the sun broke into thousands of pieces so everyone can have some shine.

Splinters of Sunshine is the latest YA novel from the award-winning author Patrice Lawrence. Having won the inaugural Jhalak Prize for Children and Young Adults for her novel Eight Pieces of Silva, which dealt with exploitative relationships, Splinters of Sunshine takes on the highly pertinent issue of County Lines drug gangs.

County Lines refers to the practice of grooming vulnerable young people to move drugs from one area (and one police authority) to another in order to avoid detection. The young people involved are often, but not exclusively, in care.

A*student, Spey, used to have a best friend called Dee. She lived with her grandmother and she was obsessed with wildflowers – their names, their colours, the stories behind them. Once, on her sixth birthday, the two of them created a huge collage of flower pictures, and at the end of the day they cut it in two and took one half each. But then Dee’s Nan died, Spey and his mother moved away, and they lost touch.

Spey saw her once or twice after that – just enough to have an uneasy feeling she might be in trouble. But he did nothing (what could he do?). But then, one day, just after Christmas, he receives an envelope, forwarded from his old address, with Dee’s half of the collage in it. And he knows he has to do something to find her.

Spey’s father, who he barely knows, is just out of prison. Spey doesn’t really want anything to do with him. But maybe, just maybe, he is the one person who can help.

This is a heart-breaking story of the exploitation of young people. But it is also a story of courage and resilience and friendship. As with all of Patrice Lawrence’s novels, she tackles contemporary issues with compassion and sensitivity. It’s a book to start a conversation on difficult issues – but that never gets in the way of a great, page-turning story.

Spey and Dee are characters that will creep into your heart and stay there forever.

Beautifully illustrated, too, with line drawings of Dee’s favourite flowers, with their scientific and common names – names which are steeped in folk history. (The cover and illustrations are designed by Michelle Brackenborough at Hachette Kids.)

At the end of the book, resources can be found to support care-leavers, children of prisoners, and those affected by gangs and county lines.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence; And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando; Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu; Wonderland by Juno Dawson

Avoid If You Dislike: Confronting issues around drug culture

Perfect Accompaniment:
A quiet hour in a wildflower meadow

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult

Buy This Book Here: