Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 June 2021 from Raven Books
My thanks to the publishers for an early copy for review
I saw it. He smothered her, pressing his hands on her face. The police don’t believe me, they say it’s impossible – but I know what I saw.
Xander Shute – once a wealthy banker, now living on the streets – shelters for the night in an empty Mayfair flat. When he hears the occupants returning home, he scrambles to hide. Trapped in his hiding place, he hears the couple argue, and he soon finds himself witnessing a vicious murder.
But who was the dead woman, who the police later tell him can’t have been there? And why is the man Xander saw her with evading justice?
As Xander searches for answers, his memory of the crime comes under scrutiny, forcing him to confront his long-buried past and the stories he’s told about himself.
How much he is willing to risk to understand the brutal truth?
Imran Mahmood’s debut novel, You Don’t Know Me was a stand-out book that still lingers in my memory, so I was really keen to read I Know What I Saw. It is another piece of distinctive and compelling writing; quite different from anything I have read before.
Our protagonist is Xander Shute, once a man who had everything, now living on the streets. Xander read Mathematics at Cambridge then went into investment banking where he was forging a successful career, had great friends and a beautiful partner. Then his life fell apart and now he can’t bear to be indoors for any length of time. He sleeps in parks and on the streets in doorways.
Life on the streets is rough. He is constantly provoked, kicked and moved on, often being injured in the process. One night, after he is attacked in the park, bleeding and in need of medical treatment, finds a downstairs doorway in the heart of Mayfair in which he can shelter. Moving down to it, he realises that the door is open, goes in, and finding the apartment empty, falls asleep on the floor behind the sofa.
He is awoken by the noise of an argument. A man and a woman are quarrelling and then the quarrel turns nasty, ending in the violent death of the woman. After the man has gone, Xander runs away, but can’t forget what he has seen and reports the murder to the police.
What then follows is a nightmare.
Imran Mahmood creates a deep and layered portrayal of a man whose memories cannot always be relied upon. His complex character is designed to make us root for Xander in our liberal, conscience-stricken way, and it is fascinating to realise how much his portrait of Xander is designed to do just that. Would we feel so invested in Xander and his outcome if our protagonist had been homeless and on the streets as a result of drug addiction, I wonder?
Nevertheless, Xander is who he is and whatever he has been, he is now itinerant, one of society’s forgotten people, living a largely unseen life under the radar. His voice is strong though, if sometimes unpredictable, and his sense of the need to get justice for this woman is what drives him throughout the book.
Told by Xander, the reader learns about his relationships, family circumstances, friendships and ultimately, why he chose to walk away. His character is beautifully drawn and the reader cannot help but be pulled into his orbit. This is a man you would pull out the stops for; a man whose convictions help you to believe his story for all the flaws and missing parts of memory that surround his telling of the story. None of that matters though, because the people who matter in his quest for justice – the police – don’t believe him at all. But Xander can’t give up, whatever the cost. He has to find peace or he will lose what’s left of his mind.
Imran Mahmood is such a good story teller. His impeccable prose brilliantly presents the character and his situation, creating a wonderful sense of atmosphere, a fine sense of place and a character you want to root for, even though you know he isn’t entirely reliable. The truth, when it comes, is like a blow to the gut.
Verdict: I Know What I Saw is gripping, immersive and engaging. It is a brilliantly told story of a man struggling to remember; a man you are willing to succeed in his task whatever the cost. Intelligent, atmospheric and innovative, it is an impeccable piece of writing and deserves to be a massive success.
Imran Mahmood was born in Liverpool in 1969 to first generation Pakistani parents. He has been working at the criminal bar in London for over 20 years and regularly appears in jury trials across the country dealing in serious and complex criminal cases. You Don’t Know Me was his debut novel. He lives in South East London.