As soon I read the synopsis for this book, I knew it was one I had to read, I was so intrigued – a young man fires his lawyer to deliver his own closing speech as he stands trial for murder.
An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?
I’m going to dive straight into the nitty gritty of my thoughts…
What I really liked about the narration style is, you really feel like a member of the jury, like the defendant is pleading his case directly to you – you hold the power; the book, the defendant, needs you, and equally you want to make the right decision so you pay close attention – you wouldn’t want to send an innocent man to prison, would you!?
However, at certain times the narration, for me, lost its authenticity and I believe this is purely subjective. This story is set in London and features a lot of street slang, for want of a better way to phrase it, in my personal and professional life, I have a fair insight into the life some young people live in London, how they can get caught up in ‘gang-life’ even if they don’t intend to. The point I’m trying to make is, I didn’t need a translation for the lingo. So, for me when the 10-year-old “gang-members” were referred to as “Tinies”, I was thinking no no no, they refer to them as “Youngers”; and using “vine” to mean gossip, I’ve never heard that one before; you get my drift [I hope]. There were certain times when I thought the language and “code of the streets” was spot on but other times I thought to myself, not quite. Now I am well aware this is my own personal knowledge/experience at play here so while this was an issue for me, I doubt it’ll be a [big] issue for many other readers so don’t put too much weight on my opinion. Also, every area in London uses their own phrases so again, Mahmood is likely spot of but it’s just not matching up with my experience. No two people read the same book so while this, at times, made the story seem false to me, it may well not to others.
I appreciate that the book was written in a colloquial style as if the defendant was talking to us, but at times, this felt really long winded and I don’t think the story needed to be quite so long. And I have to be honest, I didn’t like the ending, I like that it’s left up to the reader to decide but the conclusion of the defendant’s story just didn’t fit with all that came before, in my opinion. This is not the first time I’ve read a book using this colloquial/slang style narration and this one just didn’t stand out for me.
This is a believable story and I particularly liked the relationships displayed of the defendant, his friend, family and “enemies” and I like that some of the defendant’s speech evoked real emotion in me.
“I felt like a demolition building falling to the ground, where it did that collapsing thing. It was like my heart had collapsed from the inside.”
There’s one young person in particular, that immediately came to mind when I read that line. Here, I think the book was really close to home, in the sense, that everyone who knows me well, knows it’s my calling in life to work with 16-25-year-old vulnerable young people so in a way I think this was more than just a book to me, it was the voice of some of the young people I have previously worked with. And I think that clouded my mind a little and stopped me loving this book the way I, perhaps, could have. I do believe, Mahmood did an excellent job portraying just how complicated things can be “on the streets” and unless you’re in that life, you’ll never really understand it.
I realise I’m rambling, overall, I liked this book, I rated it 3.5 stars on Goodreads and if you haven’t read many books that push the boundaries on narration and structure, then I recommend this one. Did I love this book the way I thought I would? Sadly, no. Did the fantastic synopsis cause me to have exceedingly high expectations? Possibly. Would I read more from this author? Absolutely!