Next of Kin, by Kia Abdullah

Eight stars

Kia Abdullah returns with another chilling thriller that is sure to stir up many sentiments for the attentive reader. Pulling on some family emotions, the story centres around two sisters and a tragedy that tears them apart. Leila Syed is a busy woman, but helps her sister whenever possible. When she’s asked to take her nephew to nursery, Leila obliges, which is when things go horribly wrong. Forgetting young Max in her vehicle when a work emergency arises, the little one is left to overheat. He succumbs to vehicular hypothermia and a manslaughter case begins. Now, Yasmin Syed must wonder if her sister did this on purpose as a means of retribution for having no children of her own. Leila is charged and a court case is pending, where the truth will come out, slowly, for all to see the truth behind the dynamics between the Syed sisters. Abdullah does a masterful job in this piece, sure to leave the reader torn between which side they feel could be telling the truth.

Since raising her younger sister for most of their formative years, Leila Syed has tried to make a name for herself. Now a successful architect in London, Leila remains busy with her life, but is still fairly close to Yasmin. When Leila receives a call from her brother-in-law, Andrew, asking that she help by taking young Max to nursery, Leila obliges and collects Max for the short drive. Only later, when Andrew calls to say that Max never arrived at the nursery, does Leila realise her horrible mistake. Young Max was left inside her vehicle for the entire time, on the hottest day of the year.

After trying to revive him, medics rush Max to the hospital, where he soon succumbs to vehicular hypothermia. With a dead child on her conscience, Leila cannot face what will come. Yasmin is beside herself with grief and baffled as to why Leila could be so careless. While Leila vows it was an accident, some begin to wonder, what with her lack of children and a marriage that recently turned rocky. Leila is soon charged with manslaughter and a court date is set for all to be sorted.

When the trial begins, Leila is put on the defensive from the outset, as her personal life is magnified for all to see. While Leila did raise Yasmin after her parents’ death, some begin to wonder if the strain on having to be a quasi-parent might have been too much. Other truths come to the surface that only make it more apparent that the elder Syed had a great deal of animosity within her. Still, could Leila actually have left her nephew in the car to perish as an act of retribution for the bitterness in her own life? The truth will come out eventually and justice must be served, though it is not entirely clear on which side it will land. It is only after the trial that other, more sinister realities come to the surface. Kia Abdullah mesmerizes the reader with this stunning story that tears a family apart and opens up a plethora of new questions.

Since discovering the work of Kia Abdullah, I have been an ardent fan, trying to get my hands on each of her novels as soon as they are available. This was no exception, as the writing is intense and the story is as heart-wrenching as one could imagine. The familial bonds are torn apart with his piece and the reader is forced to watch it all play out, leaving them to play the role of ‘thirteenth juror’ in a way, asking that they weigh the evidence of Leila Syed’s guilt in the matter of her dead nephew. I found myself transfixed by the story and rushed to find out what happened and how it all came together. Perhaps one of Abdullah’s best pieces to date!

Leila Syed does play a central role in the story, her life put on trial for all to see. Leila struggles with some of the experiences she has had, not the least of which having to raise her sister, Yasmin, after the death of both parents. While there are some great moments of backstory development, it is primarily the mindset that Leila has in the present that remains the crux of the novel, putting her on trial for her apparently careless act. What transpires is a complete analysis of Leila as a person and the struggles she has to keep it all together.

A novel’s impact is one of the key ingredients I look for when I read. If the story lingers and the characters resonate within me, I feel that I have found something worth recommending to others. I have had that happen many times when reading Kia Abdullah’s work and this was no exception. The narrative flows well and takes a turn at just the right moment, thrusting Leila Syed into the spotlight for reasons she would likely prefer not have happened. The plot advances well and twists at poignant times to leave the reader unsure of their sentiments towards all those involved. Could Leila have been simply careless or was there more to it? As the story advances and truths surface, the reader must use their own intuition and pass judgement on what might have happened and who could be to blame for it all. The final portion of the novel exposes real truths that never made it into sworn testimony, which adds new flavour to an already explosive thriller.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for another stunning novel. Your writing keeps getting better the more I read.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: