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:

Truth Be Told, by Kia Abdullah

Eight stars

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

Review: Truth Be Told

A great fan of legal thrillers, particularly those that leave the reader contemplating the law and societal norms, I turned to the latest novel by Kia Abdullah. Full of gritty story telling and tackling the issue of consent, Abdullah pulls readers into the middle of this piece and allows them to become quasi-jury members. Kamran Hadid has everything he could want, living at a prestigious prep school in the London suburbs and recently accepted to read at Oxford. While his family is quite strict with their Muslim beliefs and their wealth denotes a stoic demeanour, Kamran has found a way to let himself go. When he overindulges at a party, Kamran finds himself slinking back to his room to sleep it off. In a partial stupor, he feels someone else get into the bed with him and finds that the haze in his brain leaves him somewhat unable to react. He’s sure that he’s been sexually assaulted, though when he wakes up the next morning, he’s still shocked to see Finn Andersen in bed with him. Kamran tries to piece it all together, but is unable to justify it to himself. He seeks out Zara Kaleel, a counsellor for sexual assault victims who made a name for herself previously when she helped bring four young men to court for another rape. Kamran not only struggles with understanding what this rape might mean about his sexuality, but how it might fit in the face of a Muslim upbringing. While he oscillates on what to do, Zara does her best to counsel him as a victim and they agree to take things through legal channels. While the school pushes back, Zara and Kamran are adamant that the truth must come out. Finn Andersen has his own narrative, one in which Kamran did not refuse, thereby implying consent. As the case proceeds, mud slinging begins and Kamran is forced to weather the storm, particularly as his family tries to downplay it to uphold their reputation. Zara, too, must deal with some demons in her past, as she tries to use the courts to rectify an error that has tarred her. Both sides provide strong arguments, but only one can prove victorious, It is in the hands of the jury, though the reader is invited to offer their own opinion as the narrative builds to the climactic reveal and a final twist. A strong story that will keep readers wondering throughout. Recommended to those who love a great crime thriller, as well as the reader who needs some social commentary to fuel their love of courtroom dramas.

This is the third novel that Kia Abdullah has written that left me wondering. While the easy route would be to present a case and have it easily sail through the courts, with the victory all but guaranteed. Instead, Abdullah pushes the reader to think and provides some social issues that cannot be ignored along the way. Kamran Hadid proves to be a great protagonist in this piece, suffering greatly as he tries to come to terms with what’s happened. He hates to be called a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’, and yet he is not about to let his entire life be defined by something he does not feel he brought on himself. Struggling to define himself while his conservative parents sweep it under the rug and begin branding him, Kamran does his best to hold his head high when justice intervenes. Abdullah offers readers an in-depth look into the young man’s struggles without over sensationalising it. Zara Kaleel proves to be a needed second protagonist in the book, returning in her role as counsellor and legal advocate. Readers who read the first book in which she was a main player will remember the end to that case, something that still haunts her. Zara’s struggles with addiction and constant branding by those within the South Asian community prove troublesome, though she refuses to ignore the need for justice to protect those who have been harmed. Her determination and struggles are equally helpful as the piece progresses, showing her many sides and that she, too, might be a victim of something not easily handled. There are a number of secondary characters whose presence helps push the story along while shaping the direction in which things go. Abdullah does a masterful job of flavouring the narrative with these individuals, using dialogue to help shape her social commentary throughout. The story was strong and held my attention throughout, with legal and social issues peppered throughout the narrative. While the piece is not entirely courtroom based, the strong undertones of legal rights and social understanding of norms are essential pieces, sure to provoke active thinking as the story unfolds. Larger chapters might have been better whittled down into shorter ones, as there is no clear understanding why there must be so many separate vignettes of the different plot twists under the single numerical heading. That said, things move along well and the reader will likely find themselves demanding more, particularly when the verdict is revealed and its aftermath ensues. Kia Abdullah is an author worth noting and her work helps bolster the legal thriller genre a great deal. I’ll definitely read more of what she writes when I can.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for another winner. I love when a book makes me think, while entertaining me so thoroughly.

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

Child’s Play, by Kia Abdullah

Nine stars

Returning to read a little more Kia Abdullah, I turned to one of her novels from a decade ago. This is one of Abdullah’s early novels and it pulls the reader in, while disturbing them to the core at the same time. Allegra Ashe enjoys her work with a graphic design firm, so much so that she is willing to meet clients outside the office. When she agrees to meet Michael Stallone, she thinks she might be able to land a new account. Little does she know, Stallone is head hunting her for a very specific job. When Allegra learns a little more, she cannot run away fast enough. Michael Stallone is a special agent for a top secret organisation that hunts down paedophiles. He’s come to recruit Allegra, not only for her intelligence, but because she could easily pass for a young teen, the target age of the girls these criminals find the most attractive. While Allegra rebuffs him on the spot, she soon becomes redundant at work, forcing the idea of working for Stallone to resurface. After agreeing to help, Allegra is thrust into gruelling training, both emotional and psychological, before she is able to make her first contact. The target Stallone chooses for her is Joseph Drake, a man who is suspected of sexually abusing and murdering a young girl. While she has everything to lose, Allegra causally weaves her way into Drake’s life, trying not to bait him, but hoping that she can catch him in the act and have him taken off the streets. While she panics in the midst of her mission, she knows that she can help many. However, even after Drake is off the street, it will only be the beginning of a tangled web that could strike at the core of what Allegra holds most dear. A stunning novel that is as captivating as it is sexually sadistic. Not for the weak of stomach or those who cannot divorce themselves from the fiction on the page. Highly recommended for those who can handle deeply disturbing themes in crime thrillers, as well as the reader who cares to explore the underbelly of society’s worst offenders, those who prey on children.

I was not ensure sure what to expect when I began this book. I was slightly underwhelmed with parts of Abdullah’s latest book and hoped that this one would redeem her in my eyes. From the outset, I must say that the content is raw and extremely graphic at times. I wanted to pace myself, so as not to get emotionally unregulated, but Abdullah’s writing is so good that the pages flew by as I read. Allegra Ashe is a wonderfully complex protagonist whose issues stem from many sources. The reader learns a great deal about her throughout this piece, though there are darker sides that many would perhaps wish remained untapped. The growth within the novel is apparent throughout, though it will take a dedicated reader to see how loose ends are eventually tied off and some resolution found. Of particularly interest is the chemistry she has with Michael Stallone, which is as complicated as the rest of her life. QThere are a handful of others whose expertise shines through and they complement the complicated aspects of the narrative. The reader will need a constant reminder that this is fiction, but that these sorts of people do exist in real life, both the good and the bad. The story is deep and will not digest with ease. The theme alone is horribly painful to read about, but I feel Abdullah wanted to shed some light on the subject matter to ‘de-ostrich’ the reader throughout the journey. Child abuse, particularly that of a sexual nature, occurs all the time and those who prey on them cannot always be easily identified. Abdullah tackles this throughout and leaves the reader highly cynical of stereotyping the most heinous of abusers. A story that needed to be told, particularly because it takes most everyone out of their comfort zone.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for this piece that needed to be written. I applaud you for the courage in writing it, though I cannot say I was ‘happy’ for most of it.

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

Take it Back, by Kia Abdullah

Seven stars

Kia Abdullah pens this controversial legal thriller that will have readers pulled into the role of courtroom spectator in a rape case that could go either way, depending on who is to be believed. When Jodie Wolfe enters a women’s legal clinic, she has quite the story to tell. Meeting with Zara Kaleel, Jodie shares a story of being gang raped by a number of her fellow classmates at a recent party. Jodie, physically disabled with neurofibromatosis—a significant facial deformity—asserts that she was lured to a warehouse by four Muslim boys, where they took turns degrading her, laughing the entire time. Zara, armed with this information, begins the process by reporting it to the police, hoping that she can find justice for her client. The accused boys deny that there was any rape and one asserts that it was Jodie who came on to him, only regretting the act after it had taken place. When the incident is ready for trial, there is a media feeding frenzy, pitting the word of one Caucasian girl against the four boys, which fans the flames of racial imbalance in the United Kingdom. At trial, both sides present strong cases, though the narrative differs greatly. Zara is tried in the court of public opinion for helping to prosecute fellow Muslims, which brings shame to her family, but she remains firm that the truth must come out. With Jodie’s story soon developing holes, it is anyone’s guess who is to be believed and whose story is stitched together by last-second fabrications to save face. Justice may be blind, but it certainly is swayed by human influence, as can be seen throughout this piece. Abdullah keeps the reader stunned as they await the outcome, where the truth will offer some solace. Recommended to those who love a slowly developing legal thriller that has more twists than straightforward answers.

I had seen much about this book on Goodreads and wanted to indulge in what looked to be quite the legal thriller. While there is so much on which the attentive reader can feast, there are times when the pace drowned the momentum, rather than increasing it. Jodie Wolfe comes from unenviable means, which is seen throughout this piece. Her physical deformity is one that cannot be hidden, as is the lack of popularity she suffers because of it. She claims to have been a victim, but no one can believe that her appearance would make anyone sexually aroused in the least. Abdullah addresses this throughout in a variety of ways, as the attentive reader will see. While she holds firm to her narrative, the revelation of new and troubling evidence could put the entire case in jeopardy, forcing Jodie to come face to face with holding back the entire truth. Other characters, particularly Zara Kaleel, offer their own flavour to the story. Kaleel must face the issue of law over religious unity, something that not only creates a pariah out of her, but serves as an interesting subplot to the entire piece. Abdullah fills the pages of the book with this struggle, judged in the harshest way, to show that there are time when the truth must come out, no matter what the personal consequences that accompany it. The story was strong and offered some interesting nuances for the reader to discover. There are societal issues that are deeply rooted, as well as cultural norms that fuel the underlying momentum of the press coverage, neither of which is all that helpful. That Abdullah wishes to covey this is worth noting, at a time when quick generalisations fuel opinions, and cultural beliefs come into conflict with firmly held judicial and societal norms. While the story worked well, it was encased in massive chapters that helped dilute the impact. Abdullah might have kept the reader’s attention better with shorter and choppier segments, as she does break up the perspective throughout within each of the chapters. The premise is strong and I was eager to see how things could play out, with many subplots to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for this thrilling piece. A few tweaks and I would have been thoroughly captivated.

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