East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman #BookReview

Meet Jay.
Small-time dealer.
Accidental jihadist.
The one man who can save us all?

Javid – call him Jay – is a dope dealer living in West London. He goes to mosque on Friday, and he’s just bought his pride and joy – a BMW. He lives with his mum, and life seems sweet.

But his world is about to turn upside-down. Because MI5 have been watching him, and they think he’s just the man they need for a delicate mission.

One thing’s for sure: now he’s a long way East of Hounslow, Jay’s life will never be the same again.

With the edgy humour of Four Lions and the pulse-racing tension of Nomad, East of Hounslow is the first in a series of thrillers starring Jay Qasim.

It's taken me far too long to read Khurrum Rahman's books but it does at least mean I've been able to enjoy them in quick succession and as a result will be sharing my reviews of all three novels this week, beginning (of course!) with the first in the series, East of Hounslow.
Jay Qasim thinks he has it sussed; he still lives with his mum and doesn't take life too seriously as a small-time drug dealer whose biggest love is probably his BMW. He might be a lad but on Fridays, he's a good Muslim boy and goes to mosque. Life may be sweet but even Jay isn't untouched by racial and religious intolerance and is shaken when his mosque is targeted by anti-Islamic graffiti.
With tension and emotions running high in the mosque, Jay inadvertently finds himself becoming part of a small group seeking some of retribution in the community. His actions here give an indication of the sort of man he is; he doesn't go looking for trouble but his strong ties to his family and friends means he can't help but want to protect them, and that includes the more devoutly religious Parvez, even though Jay finds him intensely annoying at times. Meanwhile MI5 has been watching Jay, believing he is the perfect candidate to become an asset and their powers of persuasion are boosted when his BMW is stolen with a stash of drugs and cash belonging to dangerous drug lord, Silas in the boot. 
Jay is an outstanding protagonist; Khurrum Rahman has created a very real character, who will be instantly recognisable to anybody from west London. His initial excitement at being offered a job with MI5 is completely relatable - how many people would turn down the chance at becoming a spy? He's no slouch though and quickly understands that the reason they want him is less because he fits their profile as somebody who could make a difference and more because he's a Muslim. One of the many strengths of East of Hounslow is that it is an honest, perceptive exploration of how a person becomes radicalised. It's uncomfortable at times and though it never excuses terrorism, it rightly lays some of the blame on a society which constantly judges, demonises - and indeed kills Muslims.  Acknowledging that there is understandable anger in Muslim communities, due to the anti-Islamic rhetoric in newspapers, politicised racism on the streets and the billions of pounds worth of weaponry used on innocent people in their own lands, it shouldn't be surprising that there are times when Jay acutely feels the same bitter fury and resentment as the rest of the terror cell he infiltrates. 
There's a terrible sense of inevitability to the later chapters of the book and it takes a writer of some calibre to ensure that I couldn't help but feel an element of pity for the people Jay has to become close to. If it sounds like a dark read, it is at times but there is such emotional depth here too, with the local community vividly brought to life as a warm - if somewhat claustrophobic neighbourhood, and perhaps most surprisingly, given some of the subject matter, it is also a very witty novel. Jay's experiences change him irrevocably and there's a surprising and rather poignant revelation which will undoubtedly be an important part of the next book, Homegrown Hero. I loved East of Hounslow, it is an incredible debut - exciting, tense and thoroughly engaging, it's a brilliant thriller which offers something more and is also a powerful, contemplative reflection on the complexities of identifying as British and Muslim in the UK today. Highly recommended.

East of Hounslow is published by HQ, purchasing links can be found here but please consider buying from an independent bookstore if possible.

About the Author

Born in Karachi and raised in West London, Khurrum Rahman now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons. His love for films and books influenced him to start writing. A hobby at first quickly became a passion. He spent any spare time in between a full-time job and being a hands-on parent to write stories inspired by his favourite screenwriters and authors.
Khurrum has written a movie screenplay which was acquired by a Danish Film Producer, but he is now concentrating on writing novels.