“The Khan” by Saima Mir

They advise to not judge a book by its cover.

Wise words indeed. 

But, just sometimes, advice, however sage and well-intentioned, is best ignored. And this is one of those occasions. Besides, who exactly are they?

I first saw “The Khan”, or rather, its cover, in a tweet and was, figuratively, stopped in my tracks. It is a striking cover. Additionally, it is a sexy cover. The title – in a simple sans-serif font – sits boldly in crisp white letters on a rich black background; the “K” in Khan cleverly fashioned to form a gun, the remaining letters blood-spattered – the hint of violence and destruction is unmistakable; the tagline, “I Am Justice”, reinforces the earlier suggestion of darkness within. And, finally, the profile of a woman’s face – golden coloured, serene and beautiful with a hint of fragility despite the title’s red-flecked letters that warn of danger – emerges from that night-blackness to assert her dominance over the scene

It’s a simple cover, very well done, and done very well. Everything about it screams “reach for me, hold me, read me”. It had me hooked.

But, as stated earlier, covers, judgment, etc. It’s the words on the pages beneath the cover that will ultimately determine any books’ success.

The author, Bradford-born Saima Mir, can breathe easy at this point; the words match the fine cover that wraps around her debut novel.

“The Khan” is a well-written and immensely enjoyable tale of a crime family in a Northern English city – the early parts of the novel will have you wondering which of two cities Mir set her story in before, certainly if you’re live around these parts (which I do), the latter part confirms your suspicions.

In some respects “The Khan” reminded me of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. A bold assertion I know and one which I suspect I may get called out on. However, whilst Mir’s book is set, not on the exciting, pulsing, glamorous streets of New York but instead in a Yorkshire city blighted by a lack of funding, resources, and hope, I think they share similar themes.

For Puzo it was all about the Italian Mafia and the Sicilian immigrants and families which powered that syndicate; Saima Mir’s book is set among the Pakistani community and its ties to Asian cultures in modern-day Britain.

Both “The Khan” and Puzo’s epic tell the tales of powerful crime families whose founding members are recent immigrants to their new country, each family with a rigid – and rigidly enforced – hierarchy whose criminal activities extend into many aspects of the cities over which they rule. More importantly, both concern family members eager to break family ties and live their lives free from the taint of criminality. Dreams which the central characters in each book find thwarted as they are pulled back into the family fold they desperately long to escape.

If asked to describe this book in an “elevator pitch style”, I’d use just four words; “British Pakistani Godfather saga”.

I’d probably add a few more, damn good too.

Mir’s writing is fierce, fast, and furious. Her prose is sharp and, often, poetic; Mir can craft lines that are evocative and beautiful. There is pace and passion, danger, and glamour in this tale, the plot has depth and nuance, twists, and turns. It is a riveting read.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a niggle or two with “The Khan”. But these were minor things which some folks probably wouldn’t even pay heed to; I can be very, often wrongly, persnickety. Even so, and putting my paltry niggles to one side, I found this to be an excellent read.

Ms. Mir has certainly set the bar quite high and I very much look forward to her next book; both her writing on its pages and the next sensational cover that contains them.

Can you judge a book by its cover? Hell, yes.

“The Khan” by Saima Mir, published March 2021
Follow Saima Mir on Twitter

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