Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 September 2020 from Dialogue Books
Set in the heart of West London’s Asian community, this is the latest instalment in the unmissable ZAQ & JAGS series . . .
Trying – and failing – to keep his head down and to stay out of trouble, ex-con Zaq Khan agrees to help his best friend, Jags, recover a family heirloom, currently in the possession of a wealthy businessman. But when Zaq’s brother is viciously assaulted, Zaq is left wondering whether someone from his own past is out to get revenge.
Wanting answers and retribution, Zaq and Jags set out to track down those responsible. Meanwhile, their dealings with the businessman take a turn for the worse and Zaq and Jags find themselves suspected of murder.
It’ll take both brains and brawn to get themselves out of trouble and, no matter what happens, the results will likely be deadly. The only question is, whether it will prove deadly for them, or for someone else . . . ?
Amer Anwar is a born storyteller. His characters are people you care about; histories laced with danger, action, intrigue and humour and his plotlines carefully crafted.
I adored Brothers in Blood, (Western Fringes when I read it) the first in this series, but I think Anwar has taken his characters a step further this time and I feel as if I am getting to understand Zaq a little better.
Zaq Khan spent 5 years in prison after a fight led to an unintended death. Since his release, he has been working as a delivery driver for a construction company run by Mr Brar whose sons were caught up in Zaq’s first skirmish after his release. Zaq’s best friend is Jags; they’ve been friends since childhood and Jags is a rather good cook, and Anwar always makes my taste buds fire up when I’m reading. Stone Cold Trouble is set in the heart of West London’s British Asian community and Zaq lives in Southhall, sharing a house with a bunch of young Sikh men.
When Zaq’s brother, Tariq, is severely beaten while DJ’ing at a wedding, Zaq is determined to track down the guilty party/ies, and at the same time, Jags has asked him to help retrieve a valuable heirloom belonging to his Uncle Lucky, which he stupidly used as collateral for a gambling bet and which he now can’t get back from its holder.
Amer Anwar shows us the different sides of Zaq in this book. A good friend, but one who doesn’t hesitate to draw Jags into actions he may not have 100% signed up for. A good son and brother, who, even though he and Tariq haven’t always got on, spends every night at his hospital bedside while he lies in a coma.
There are burgeonings of a romantic interest, too but these very definitely take second place to what is a seriously macho response to the events with which Zaq is faced. A distrust of the police – and Anwar has some very pertinent things to say about the demise of community policing – and a fear that he could be sent back to prison are what drives Zaq to take the actions that he does.
Stone Cold Trouble is a darker book than the first and that means that there are times when, much as I wanted to like Zaq, his determination to seek revenge had me looking at him through fresh eyes.
Anwar has a light touch with Zaq though and this book, with its thrills, fights and genuinely suspenseful heart-in-the-mouth moments, is a riveting read. Interspersed with some good laughs and a load of hugely entertaining banter, it’s easy to fall in love with Zaq and Jags.
But Zaq is treading a very fine line and I’m worried for him and for his lifelong friendship. The consequences of following a road paved with natural justice are not always foreseeable and I’ll be interested to see where Amer Anwar goes with this in the future. There’s only so long you can go on getting away with being the young macho man with good boxing skills, even if it does come with oodles of charm.
Verdict: An excellent read, well-plotted and full of fast paced thrills and spills and intelligent, intriguing plotting. Zaq and Jags are a fantastic pair; let’s hope they can stay that way!
Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. More here.