Stone Cold Trouble by Amer Anwar #BookReview #PublicationDay


Set in the heart of West London’s Asian community, this is the latest instalment in the unmissable ZAQ & JAGS series . . .

Trying – and failing – to keep his head down and to stay out of trouble, ex-con Zaq Khan agrees to help his best friend, Jags, recover a family heirloom, currently in the possession of a wealthy businessman. But when Zaq’s brother is viciously assaulted, Zaq is left wondering whether someone from his own past is out to get revenge.

Wanting answers and retribution, Zaq and Jags set out to track down those responsible. Meanwhile, their dealings with the businessman take a turn for the worse and Zaq and Jags find themselves suspected of murder.

It’ll take both brains and brawn to get themselves out of trouble and, no matter what happens, the results will likely be deadly. The only question is, whether it will prove deadly for them, or for someone else...?

I'm thrilled to wish Amer Anwar a very happy publication day and to share my review of Stone Cold Trouble today. Huge thanks to Dialogue Books for my advance copy of the novel, received through Netgalley.

To say I've been ridiculously excited to read Stone Cold Trouble would be an understatement; I loved Amer Anwar's first book, Brothers in Blood and have been desperate to find out what problems would befall Zaq and Jags next. Despite their best intentions, trouble constantly seems to find them in this smart, witty, action-packed thriller.
The importance of friends and family to the pair is a particularly important theme in the book; the friendship between the two being central to proceedings, of course, but the emphasis on relations within families and the local British Asian community helps give the novel its considerable heart. A request from Jags' unfortunately named Uncle Lucky seems to be straightforward enough; he used an antique necklace - a family heirloom, no less - as a marker in a card game but although convinced of his winning hand, lost to a straight flush to the wealthy host, Mr Shergill. He thought he would have the necklace safely returned to him upon payment of the ten grand he owes but now Shergill is refusing to give it back. Lucky asks Zaq and Jags to come with him when he returns to the house to try again but they very quickly discover just how determined he is to keep hold of it - and the lengths he and his associates are prepared to go to...
Meanwhile, Zaq's brother, Tariq is in a coma after a vicious, apparently meaningless assault. Zaq is worried that his brother was targeted as a result of his actions in the first book and it's worth saying here that while it's entirely possible to enjoy Stone Cold Trouble as a standalone, I would advise you to read Brothers in Blood first if possible. This sequel is perhaps less overtly bloody than its predecessor, with some of the darkest moments alluded to rather than actually shown. There is still a real sense of danger running throughout however, and the brutal fight scenes are often wincingly graphic. Despite the violence Zaq is subjected to, it's arguably the emotional pain which exerts the greater toll on him as he spends his nights sitting in vigil at Tariq's bedside while trying to negotiate his fragile relationship with his parents, who remain disappointed that they once had a successful son they were proud of, but he now has a prison record and consequently a dead-end job. He is soon on the trail of his brother's attackers and doesn't hold back from utilising his fighting prowess when necessary - the reminders of his time in prison and the company he kept inside leaves little doubt that he risks becoming increasingly intertwined with some dangerous people. However, he also displays ingenuity, resourcefulness and a firm moral code. It's not surprising, therefore, that his friends - the remarkably patient Jags, in particular but also his housemates - are so evidently supportive, even in the face of real trouble.
Though much of the action takes place in the Southall area again, the lads venture a little further afield too and the descriptions of places like Slough and Iver are as distinctly realised as their usual stomping grounds. The frequent mentions of food and pubs helps to evoke the immersive sense of place and though I wouldn't want to visit some of the pubs, I found myself drinking copious mugs of masala chai while reading the book! Likewise, the ebullient mix of British and Punjabi slang adds real authenticity to the dialogue (and I've learned new ways to swear...)
 You know a book has got under your skin when you wake up in the night worrying about the characters but Stone Cold Trouble was more than worth the disturbed sleep. The exploration of issues facing the Asian community in London, especially the precarious relations with an underfunded, rapidly changing police force is handled with great aplomb but there is a real lightness of touch here which ensures Stone Cold Trouble is a compelling read from start to finish. There appears to be some mouth-watering groundwork laid for further plotlines too, and the growing cast of supporting characters  - including Nina and Rita who, despite taking more of a backseat here are clearly positioned to feature prominently in the future - are vibrantly engaging. 
I absolutely loved Stone Cold Trouble; this edgy urban thriller effortlessly combines bruising action scenes with genuine warmth and humour. I'm really excited about this series - Amer Anwar has created something very special with Zaq and Jags and I can't wait for more! A must-read! 

Stone Cold Trouble is published by Dialogue Books; purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores if possible.

About the Author

Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent a decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.