The Khan by Saima Mir

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The Khan by Saima Mir

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: The Khan is a dark, gripping thriller that subverts the usual 'women as victims' narrative of crime fiction. Mir's writing is complex and evocative and The Khan is a fantastic read, sure to catch you in it's clutches and not let you go until the final, heart pounding pages.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2021
Publisher: Point Blank
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786079091

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Jia Khan has alway lived by the motto be twice as good as men and four times as good as white men. This has served her well in her rise through the criminal justice system and by the time she is called home for her sister's wedding after fifteen years in self-imposed exile, she is at the top of her game. Returning to the city of her birth, to old scars and fresh wounds, Jia must confront her past and reconcile her visions for the future with her sense of honour and duty.

The Khan is an important book and it is thrilling to have the opportunity to glimpse a rarely seen world. Mir has taken the old tropes of 'the crime boss' and shaken them up, creating an intricate, multilayered character who refuses to be subjugated under the ideas of the men surrounding her. Jia Khan is silk and steel, ready to use all the skills in her arsenal to maintain peace but also prepared to take vengeance when pushed. Jia displays a ruthlessness that would be commended in men but is so often malignantly criticised in women so it will be interesting to see the reaction to this book (and the planned BBC production).

One of the greatest aspects of The Khan was it's evocative invocation of place. As someone proudly born and raised in Yorkshire, it was refreshing to see a loving portrayal of the vibrancy of a northern city, it's architecture and inhabitants, as opposed to the bleak, poverty stricken, media driven narrative of want. Mir acknowledges the injustices faced by the North and expertly links this injustice to the outcome of organised crime. Rather than demonising those oppressed, Mir crafts realistic, complex characters who are often faced with difficult choices. It is hard not to empathise and so Mir provides an opportunity for those so regularly maligned to be seen with compassionate eyes. The Khan also gives a glimpse into the damage caused to communities ravaged by drugs and violence and held under the heel of violent criminal gangs. We are also confronted by the conflict that arises in families when parents who adhere to the 'old way' collide with their children's desire to create their own identity in modern Britain.

At its heart, the Khan is about family, loyalty and community. Jia is a thoroughly modern woman who takes comfort and refuge in the traditions of her ancestors. She is driven by a desire to see her community thrive and relies on her community's traditions to safeguard against the persistent tide of violence coming from the city's new criminal underbelly. However, Jia is her father's daughter and when the Khan is threatened by a new enemy, she demonstrates her willingness to replace the ways of her father's traditions with a steely contemporary system of justice.

It's very difficult to recommend further reading as so little fiction exists that explores any of the key elements of this story. If this reads as a criticism of the general field of crime fiction, it should do. A classic non-fiction true crime story that explores the criminal justice system is the best I can do, The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson.

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