All I Said Was True by Imran Mahmood  @imranmahmood777  @BloomsburyRaven

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 July 2022 from Raven Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1526647559

When Amy Blahn was murdered on a London office rooftop, Layla Mahoney was there. She held Amy as she died. But all she can say when police arrest her is that ‘It was Michael. Find Michael and you’ll find out everything you need to know.’

The problem is, the police can’t find Michael – there is no evidence that he exists. And time is running out before they have to either charge Layla with Amy’s murder, or let her go.

As a lawyer, Layla knows that she has only forty-eight hours to convince police to investigate the man she knows only as ‘Michael’ instead of her. But the more she attempts to control her interviews with police, the more the truth leaks out – and how much of that truth can Layla risk being exposed?

You have to be a very good writer to keep your reader on tenterhooks, wondering what on earth is going on and what the point of this story is for several chapters. Fortunately Imran Mahmood is just that and he really pulls it off in this book which will keep you guessing all the way.

All I Said Was True shifts between the aftermath of a woman’s murder and the time before that event as we hear from Layla, being questioned for Amy Blahn’s murder,  but clearly not telling all she knows. Her situation looks grim, the evidence all points to her guilt. Layla is a civil lawyer. She was arrested, on the rooftop of her husband’s workplace with a dead woman in her arms and no-one else around but she insists she is innocent.

This is a dual timeline story, split between Then, which is six weeks before the live police interview, and Now. Layla is the most unreliable of narrators, pointing the police to a mysterious man whose name she barely knows ; offering them only the suggestion that if they find Michael, they’ll find out everything they need to know.

It’s a risky strategy for a woman being questioned under caution for murder and Layla’s story is, to say the least, a bit fantastical. How much, if any, is true, is difficult to determine and what it all adds up to is really fuzzy. Imran Mahmood is an expert at building up those really knotty string puzzles where it’s almost impossible to find the one string that offers the clue to unravelling the whole and you end up down many wrong turnings before you are even close to unravelling the whole.

Layla in chapters interleaved with the interview chapters, takes us back some 6 weeks before the murder to show us what happened and how it was she ended up cradling Amy Blahn’s dead body.

Fortunately Mahmood can really pull this off; his writing is sharp and beautifully constructed. When, quite far into the book, the rationale for all this becomes clear, it is a delight to know that the reader’s perseverance has been rewarded by a clear and logical explanation of what has transpired.

Layla is an enigma. Clearly not disclosing the truth, yet maintaining her innocence. Pointing to a perpetrator whose full name she does not know. She is obfuscating, but why is unclear. Whatever the reasons, she seems only to be succeeding in making herself look more desperate and by omission, guilty. As she tries to explain the concept of Free Will to the Police she succeeds only in making it look as if she’s trying to establish a mental health defence.

As we learn more about Layla and her background, it’s possible to understand how she found herself in this position. But the mysterious Michael remains an enigma and while you can speculate about what exactly is going on, this is not one you’re solve early on.

Verdict: This beautifully constructed, clever plot and it really delivers on suspense. I was guessing and second guessing myself all the way along. This was such a propulsive book for me I read it in one sitting, eschewing everything else so that I could find out what was going on. For me, that’s the mark of a real page-turner and this one has it all. It is unpredictable, intriguing, suspenseful and highly enjoyable.

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Imran Mahmood is a practicing barrister with almost 30 years’ experience fighting cases in court. He hails from Liverpool but now lives in London with his wife and daughters. His debut novel You Don’t Know Me was chosen by Simon Mayo as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Choice and longlisted for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and for the CWA Gold Dagger, and has now been adapted into a four part drama series for the BBC. He is also the author of I Know What I Saw. When not in court or writing novels he can sometimes be found on the Red Hot Chilli Writers’ podcast as one of the regular contributors.

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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