Monday 1 May 2017

You Don't Know Me by Imran Mahmood

Published by Penguin on May 4, 2017

The moment I first heard about this book, I absolutely loved the sound of it. It’s rare to find a book in this genre told in a different format, with fresh storytelling and a style of writing that fully immerses the reader and makes them feel part of the novel itself, but You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood really fits the bill.

The book tells the case of an unnamed defendant, beginning on day 29 of the trial where he is accused of the murder of young gang member Jamil. There is stacks of evidence against the defendant which make him look very guilty, but he has sacked his lawyer and is delivering his own defence statement so he can give the jury the full truth and make them see the bigger picture and come to the verdict that he isn’t actually guilty of the crime. I was intrigued by this book right from the beginning, and though it is a pretty long book, it didn’t take me long to read it as I kept picking it back up so I could learn more about the defendant and the enthralling case.

The way the author writes the defendant’s character I thought was brilliant. The characterisation was spot on. Through the way he speaks and the things he goes into, the ways he expresses himself and the insight he delivers on various stages of his life, he became a very real character and to me I honestly did feel more like I was listening to him speak as I was part of the jury, rather than reading about the case in the book. The style of this book was something altogether different than what I was used to, and though I had mixed feelings about certain parts, one thing I found particularly impressive was just how much we get to discover about the man accused of murder. He was a particularly interesting character and the insight he gives into his background and into gang life is very in depth and often he touched on things which are typically glossed over, which made me find him all the more engaging.

The outlook on gang life and what comes with it made for compelling reading. There was almost a layer of vulnerability portrayed about the defendant and other characters in a similar place which I found fascinating as often we only see the bravado, the guns and the knives and the drugs and the violence, and whilst these are all very much a part of the lifestyle in this book, there is also a more sensitive aspect to the lifestyle which stops you from writing off the defendant right away, if at all.

Despite the many things I liked about this book, there were also a few aspects to this book that niggled me a bit. I really bought into the whole reader being part of the jury thing this book nailed so well, but as the supposed member of the jury, given that they have to come to the decision of whether he did it or not, I really had so many unanswered questions for the defendant and I would have loved for him to have been interrupted more and questioned more so I could have got some of those answers. I know that the book was written as the closing speeches, so the heavier part of the trial was done, and I’m sure the author knew exactly what he was doing by writing the book at this stage of the trial, but the curious part of me would have loved to have seen the defendant grilled more so I could have got an even further understanding of his character and whether he was to be trusted or not.

However it is a book that still lingers on my mind a while after reading it, and the characters, too, are some I won't be forgetting for a long time. Both the story and the storytelling were impactful and memorable, and the author, from his real-life experience as a barrister, is someone who can obviously construct a very dark and thought-provoking novel which will have the reader hooked. You Don’t Know Me is like being on jury duty, only it cuts out all the waiting about and throws you into a meaty case with a fascinating defendant and days of entertainment as you come to your final verdict.

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