What is this about?: Jay is a dope dealer, living in Hounslow, a Muslim community in London. After a storm of events, he finds himself reassessing his life, but he also finds himself in MI5’s sights, given everything that has changed in his life. Turns out, he might be the perfect recruit for a terrorist organisation they’re investigating. But that is just half the truth in a bold story.
What else is this about?: This is about how young Muslim men and women are radicalised, how they have nowhere to turn when it seems the world is against them for something a terrorist cell did somewhere. Jay’s life is a mess, and when he tries to get control back, to get his life into some sort of order, he finds himself being indoctrinated into a world he is afraid of, that he wants to fight against. It’s a thoroughly emotional coming-of-age story wrapped around a gripping thriller.
Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger Award 2018 and the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award 2018
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 thriller starring Jay Qasim.
Javid (call him Jay) Qasim lives in East of Hounslow, a Muslim community in London that has its religious community members, the ones who attend mosque as they are required to do. Then there are those community members who date white boys from school, and wear their skirts way too short. Essentially, like every other community out there, East of Hounslow is a melting pot.
It’s been Jay and his mother for years, and his father is a distant memory. She lets him do what he wants, and by that I mean she doesn’t force him to attend mosque every day, or observe other Muslim traditions. She has let him find his path in how to be Muslim, and that means going to mosque every Friday for Jay. In between all that, he is a small-time drug dealer.
When a school is attacked in Canada, and a Muslim terrorist cell claims responsibility, something clicks in Jay. He wants to make a difference, to affect change. He doesn’t himself, his mother or the other Muslims he knows to be tarred by the same brush as these terrorists. It’s illuminating how fervently he whispers and wishes to himself that the perpetrators not be Muslim as he watches the news report of the attack, waiting for the (inevitable) sequence of of words he comes to expect in ews reports of this kind.
On the night of the attack on the mosque, Jay is roped into being part of a trio of young Muslim men out looking for revenge on white people. See how this circle of violence keeps going? It doesn’t end well, with Jay’s car and his stash of drugs stolen and he finds himself in debt to a drug dealer — the kind that runs drugs and guns and gives him just days to repay the thousands he owes.
Which makes it easy for MI5 to step in
There is a larger game in motion here with MI5 stepping in to rescue Jay, such as it is. They begin to isolate him, taking his best friend, Idris from him, an act for their benefit which works well when his mother moves away to Qatar to pursue a new relationship. Jay is persuaded to be their mole, and soon enough his now frequent visits to the mosque and prayers begin to get the notice of the right people.
And the right people? Are the ones who want isolated young men and women, who are easy to mould into their way of thinking.
What Jay doesn’t realise, is that Parvez — a young man he grew up with is already part of this group.
So Jay begins to grow ever more part of this group, readers and Jay are given some kind of insight into the other members are like, into what brought them into the group, but it is Parvez’s story that resonates the most. Even though they grew up together, Jay and Parvez are vastly different. Parvez goes to mosque, behaves like a good Muslim boy should, but the world around him looks at him differently, laughs and mocks him too — Jay does the same. For all that he wants to keep Parvez safe, he treats him like an irritating younger brother he’d like to shoo away to not cramp his style — even though Parvez wants nothing more than to be his friend.
Within this terrorist cell. Group. I’m still not entirely sure what to refer to the group — Parvez is the accomplished one, the one who is trained and knows guns and bombs, and who looks at Jay like he doesn’t belong. This role reversal shows Jay just how far Parvez has gone down this path, but still Jay sticks fast to the idea that he needs to save Parvez.
Characterisation, pacing and MI5
If you didn’t know the colour of his skin, or his faith, Jay would like any other English guy, with a fondess for the word f*#k in whatever combination fits the situation. He is coasting through life, expecting the good life from his drug dealing to continue until he realises it can’t. Then we see the core of him, the person who is hopes desperately that his faith (and himself and his friends) aren’t going to be pointed at in the wake of another terrorist attack.
So, it’s easy for Parker, his MI5 handler to convince him to do what they want, and it’s cool for a bit, until it isn’t. Until it’s months later, and months of Muslim classes and lectures about faith, and how to plan an attack correctly for maximum casualties means Jay finds himself forgetting who he is and trying desperately to hold on to the guy he was before.
The action goes from England to the middle East, taking Jay and readers to the core of this ‘training’ and showing Jay the scope of what he has gotten himself into.
All of this is a sort of coming of age story for Jay, learning about the world beyond Hounslow and his little sphere of experience. I never doubted that his faith meant something to him, even though he was a drug dealer; and that Parvez for all his irritating young brother tendencies meant something to him too.
Rahman’s writing is impeccable as he takes readers through Jay’s journey, through the understanding of those around him, and what Parvez, who he thought he knew, has become. Last but not least, is the reason why MI5 chose Jay — and that forces him and readers to think of himself and what he is going through in an entirely different way.