I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood – Review

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By Alex Mair

If you have any intention of reading I Know What I Saw then the best advice is to stop reading this, purchase it from your nearest bookshop or onto your electronic reading device, and get stuck in. The problem of reviewing and reading a review of I Know What I Saw, is that it is exceedingly difficult to review without giving away the plot. Which is a good thing, because one of the triumphs of Imran Mahmood’s thriller is that it keeps you in the dark for a long time. In fact, you’ll struggle to read a better thriller this year.

I Know What I Saw is a meditation on memory, London, trauma and the struggle to come to terms with the past. The main character is a homeless man, Alexander ‘Xander’ Shute, who finds himself a witness in a police case. No matter how incredible his account, no matter how apparently ridiculous his account seems, he is insistent he is telling the truth. As Xander says, ‘I know what I saw’. But the police – and the law in general – see it another way.

I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood – Review coverThere are police interrogation scenes in I Know What I Saw. The last review I wrote was of the previous series of Line of Duty and its sister programme Bloodlands in which I’ve loved the interrogation scenes most of all. They put characters under the microscope, leaving each character totally exposed to the unforgiving glare of the interrogator’s questions. Character’s most embarrassing and revealing personality traits are exposed, criminal masterminds are tripped up by minor shortcomings. With the sun appearing to have set on Jed Mercurio’s television masterpiece, I Know What I Saw has filled the Line of Duty-shaped hole in my life.

“Exciting and intelligent”

A thriller like I Know What I Saw obviously features characters committing crimes (its difficult to write a thriller in which people do not commit crimes; people must behave badly in a thriller after all). But crime is only one aspect of the novel; the novel’s other theme is memory, the unreliability of it, the malleability of it. Imran Mahmood, a criminal barrister with almost thirty years’ experience fighting cases in court, knows something fundamental about memory: it is interpretation not history. Xander’s memory is his one source of solace during his long, lonely nights wandering the streets of London at night. But it also the source of all his woes.

I hope I Know What I Saw is commercially successful. Mahmood certainly deserves it for the meticulous care he has taken in constructing a plot which, in the hands of somebody else, could easily have been a mess. The novel puts one in mind of the great American author Richard Yates who wrote about endings; ‘the perfect ending should be both surprising and inevitable’. You get the impression Mahmood is guiding you, with lawyer-like attention, towards a conclusion for which the reader has been prepared, like a jury being shepherded towards an inescapable conclusion by a barrister constructing a good case.

I Know What I Saw is an enjoyable, exciting and intelligent thriller with wide appeal, that should find an audience with readers of Lee Child and Paula Hawkins.

‘I Know What I Saw’ by Imran Mahmood is published by Raven Books, £12.99 hardback

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