A fascinating introduction to British Asian Noir by writer, Alex Caan
A lifetime passion for writing was sparked by the encouraging words of an English Teacher in school, and eventually led to Alex successfully completing an MA in Creative Writing, and write Cut to the Bone.
Cut to the Bone has been a Kindle Number 1 bestseller, was picked as a WH Smith ‘Everyone’s Talking About’ book of the week, chosen as Sainsbury’s best of summer reads and was Angela Marson’s pick for crime novel recommendation of the year. Alex Caan was also a rising star on Amazon in 2016.
First to Die, the shocking sequel to Cut to the Bone, was released on June 2018.
Alex has also ventured into the world of glamorous thrillers with the best selling Bollywood Wives under the pseudonym Alex Khan.
He is currently writing a new police procedural series featuring two bad ass female British Muslim leads.
He has also spent over a decade working in Information Systems Security for a number of government organisations, and is currently specialising in Terrorism Studies.
He tweets from @alexkhanauthor
When I first wanted to become a novelist aged eight I was aware of two things: the first was that there were no people like me writing ‘genre’ fiction and the second was that I didn’t care that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Fast forward to the present day and British crime fiction has broken barriers that other genres just haven’t been able to. And not only breaking barriers but completely changing the narrative in the process. So much so that British Asian Noir is now a whole sub-genre of its own.
The writers that fall under this label have produced novels that are thrilling, complex, different but most importantly of all, just absolutely brilliant crime fiction that appeals to longstanding crime fiction aficionados and takes crime fiction forward at the same time.
The Godfather of British Asian Noir is of course A A Dhand.
He took the mean streets of Bradford and brought them to a whole new audience, making Bradford as exciting as The Wire made Baltimore.
His plots are heart stopping page turners, his hero the first British Asian police lead in mainstream crime fiction publishing, Harry Virdee, his stories show that you can write thrillers that will sit well in any list and yet he brings an absolutely unique voice to the genre.
Dhand’s success really helped open doors for other British crime novelists to showcase their version of what that means. Once the door was opened, mainstream publishing along with bloggers, reviewers and crime fans all realised that stories by this group of writers could be just as high quality and exciting as those by the stars that had led the field until then. The crime community actively sought out these writers and stories, excited by the fresh voices and a new spin on the crime genre.
British Asian Noir became almost as fashionable as Scandi Noir had been a few years earlier.
Taking advantage of this Brit Asian Noir writers brought to life the cities that had been explored in the past, in a whole new light.
Imran Mahmood, author of You Don’t Me, writes about London because ‘London is life’ it’s such a fascinating city for him.
What Mahmood did, like authors Sanjida Kay and Rosie Claverton, was to show that being British Asian didn’t limit you into the sort of stories you could tell. They write fascinating stories about people that aren’t from the same backgrounds as themselves, really challenging the stereotype of what authors like them might have been expected to produce. Mahmood’s writing is on par with the best in the genre, while Kay writes gripping psychological thrillers that again are up there with the best fiction in that subgenre.
Anwar writes about Southall, a whole little microcosm of its own, a place that is so alive and vibrant and has so many dark stories to tell, yet it is an area that hasn’t really been featured in mainstream fiction.
He not only deftly shows off his knowledge of the people and place, but like his contemporaries, does it in the folds of a dark, funny and pacey crime novel. Rahman meanwhile has used Hounslow, another diverse area of London that rarely gets a mention, as his base for his Jay Qasim spy stories. Really twisting things up he is writing about a subject that is utterly relevant and serious but does it with effervescence and realism. The books are funny but also layered thrillers, really exploring what the fight against terrorism is and how complicated it is, think Bodyguard meets Informer meets Four Lions.
The series really is a great example of just what Brit Asian Noir means – telling the stories we crime fiction fans want but in a way that makes them seem new.
Joining the ranks of this subgenre Kia Abdullah is the latest writer to change things.
Her debut thriller Take It Back is brave and challenging, creating a female lead in Zara who is a successful female lawyer taking on the case of her life.
There is no holding back in her setting of Britain today, seen through her eyes but also asking some very tough questions, which is what the best crime fiction does. Life is complicated, messy, dark and full of contradictions. Brit Asian Noir does all of that. But it isn’t just writers of Asian origin that are helping this genre breakthrough. Vicky Newham brings to life East London in the form of Bangladeshi cop DI Maya Rahman.
Why has this change happened seemingly so quickly in the last 5 years?
I feel that crime fiction has always been way ahead of other genres, think of the females that broke the mould like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, and welcoming authors like Dreda Say Mitchell. In fact, female crime writers now outweigh male ones, and there are a number of successful writers openly from an LGBT background.
The reasons might be the intelligence and openness of crime readers, who are always looking for new perspectives, and also crime writers themselves who are usually spurred on to hold a mirror up to society. And British Asian Noir is only going to get stronger with exciting new stories from Liz Mistry coming up, again set in Bradford, with an Asian female police officer Nikki Parekh set to break the mould.
While their novels don’t talk about Britain as such, both Abir Mukherjee and Vaseem Khan are both British Asian crime writers who are telling stories about 1920’s Calcutta and modern day Mumbai respectively, winning awards and conquering the charts as they do. The success of these writers gives confidence to publishers to trust that crime fiction by Asian writers can be successful and well written, furthering the Brit Asian Noir subgenre.
What is missing though is the translation of these stories onto the screen. Brit Asian Noir has now produced some strong lead characters and stories and it is time that other mediums followed suit. Already the Red Hot Chilli Writers podcast is helping do this, and hopefully will inspire publishing to continue looking for new stories and voices.