Edgware Road by Yasmin Cordery Khan

Long-ago scandals…

😐 😐

In 1987, Alia Quraishi was a young girl when her dad went missing. A few weeks later his body was found, and Alia was told he had drowned. Now in 2003, Alia wants to know more. What was Khalid doing in Portsmouth, far from his usual London haunts, and why did he drown? Why didn’t he turn up the last time he was due to meet her in Edgware Road tube station? As a mixed-race child brought up entirely by her white mother after Khalid’s death, Alia also finds herself wanting to know more about her Pakistani heritage. Alia’s quest to learn more about the father she barely remembers will take her both to Pakistan and back into the past, to some of the murky dealings in the world of high finance in which Khalid seems to have become involved.

This starts out excellently. It is split between Alia’s story in 2003 and Khalid’s back in the 1980s, and Khan draws both characters beautifully. She shows Alia’s position, as a mixed-race person brought up with little contact with half of her heritage, very realistically and happily undramatically. Alia has had a good education and while her academic career isn’t on as solid a footing as she would like, she’s doing fine. By taking this British woman to Pakistan, Khan shows the differences in the two cultures and in the status of women within both societies – middle-class women, in both cases – and she doesn’t set out to criticise either culture or to show one as better than the other. Instead she shows that the women are inclined to favour the culture of their upbringing, not surprisingly. Alia would find it hard to give up her British liberal attitudes, but she can see that the seemingly more restricted lifestyle of her Pakistani cousins has advantages too.

Khalid’s story is also done very well in the early part of the book. He is a croupier in Hefner’s Playboy casino in London just at the time when women were beginning to object to the idea of waitresses being made to dress as semi-naked bunnies for the titillation of male customers. (FF says: Now, of course, mothers dress their daughters in Playboy-branded clothes, while young women dress up as Playboy bunnies voluntarily and call it owning their own sexuality. Go figure where feminism went wrong – beats me. But you can be sure men still enjoy the titillation…) Rumours are also swirling that the Playboy Club and its manager, Victor Lowndes, are in trouble over dodgy financial dealings, and the club is about to have its gaming licence revoked. Khalid is himself a gambler and this has led to the breakdown of his marriage to Alia’s mum. Now he gets involved with Adnan Khashoggi and through him gets sucked into the dodgy dealings of the BCCI just before the scandal that brought the bank down.

If Hefner, Lowndes, Khashoggi and BCCI are meaningless terms to you, then you may well be lost, not to mention bored, by this book. I lived through these various scandals but to be honest didn’t even find them all that interesting at the time. And it’s here that the book lost me. From being an interesting study of character and culture, it gets bogged down in ‘80s references, and Khan’s plot, regarding the death of Khalid, isn’t strong enough to fight its way through. The real problem, I felt, is that people who remember these scandals would, like me, feel that Khan added nothing to what came out in the interminable investigations that followed them; while for newcomers, I feel Khan doesn’t explain clearly enough, or interestingly enough, what they were all about or the impact that they had. She tells us that the bank’s failure would have affected investors, but doesn’t show us. Equally she tells us that feminists were making a stand about Playboy and the sexualisation of women in the workplace, but doesn’t show us. And I’m afraid the simple facts that rich men often get rich by illegal means, and that casinos and banks are great places for all kinds of dodgy stuff to go on, isn’t enough to surprise or thrill. The book needs a stronger plot with an added thriller element or, conversely, a simpler one, that concentrates on Alia’s journey of self-discovery rather than losing its way in some rather tedious ancient scandals.

Yasmin Cordery Khan

I’m afraid I gave in around the 60% mark and started brutally skimming. I was interested enough to know what had happened to Khalid to stick with it, but it all seemed like a real anti-climax in the end. I enjoyed Khan’s writing style and characterisation a lot and would read something else by her, but I hope next time she’ll get a better balance between research, background and story-telling. This is a debut novel and shows real promise but, as I say so often, especially when it comes to debut authors, why wasn’t the editor giving her better guidance?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Head of Zeus via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

38 thoughts on “Edgware Road by Yasmin Cordery Khan

  1. Oh, that’s a shame that the book didn’t carry through the original plot as strongly as it could have, FictionFan. That’s the plot that interested me from your description. The questions of culture and the status of women are interesting, and the question of what happened to Khalid is, too. As to the ’80s scandals, I can see how they’d be less interesting, especially if there was too much discussion of them. Hmmmm….a mixed bag, then, I think. Perhaps one I’ll wait on…

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    • Definitely a promising debut, but really the balance between the historical stuff and the plot was off. It was a pity because the two central characters were shaping up to be really interesting but they got lost somewhere along the way. I’ll still be interested enough to see how she develops in the future though – hopefully the feedback she gets from this one will tell her the things that I feel her editor ought to have told her before the book was published!

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    • It was a pity, because the two central characters were very interesting, with the father being a first generation immigrant and the daughter as a second generation who had been immersed fully in British culture and lost touch with her Pakistani heritage. Personally I felt that would have been enough to keep the book going, without the need to get involved in all these old, rather dull scandals.

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    • Yes, it was a pity, because the two central characters were very interesting, with the father being a first generation immigrant and the daughter as a second generation fully immersed in British culture and having lost touch with her Pakistani heritage. Personally I felt that was enough, and that it really didn’t need all the stuff about the ancient scandals. However, a promising debut, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops.

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    • I believe she’s a historian in real life, though whether she specialise is in modern history I don’t know. But I did feel that she found these scandals considerably more interesting than I did, either at the time or now. It’s a pity because the contrasts of the two central characters was very interestingly done. Never mind, a promising debut, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops.

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  2. While I’m definitely old enough to recall the era in which the scandal took place, the fact that I don’t recall a single thing about it shows its interest level to me. So I probably would have abandoned the book too. I wonder if the author felt pushed to include more sexual controversy in order to sell the book. If so, what a shame. Too often I have seen quieter narratives about self discovery pushed aside to make room for racier fare.

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    • Yes, as well as everything else, I think these scandals were particularly British/Asian, and I’m not sure whether people from elsewhere in the world would even really have been aware of them at the time much less now. There wasn’t really any sexual stuff in it other than a reference to the feminist reaction to the Playboy Bunnies, but I felt that she really left that aspect underdeveloped, though I’d probably have found it more interesting than the banking scandal!

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    • Yes, some scandals are so involved in financial skulduggery that they don’t really have the human element that makes them interesting. I remember being bored by the BCCI scandal at the time, so I didn’t feel it was a good premise for a book somehow…

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  3. Well, I’m surprised you didn’t start skimming earlier. But then, I think I have less patience than you do. A fairly tepid plot, at least after the initial start, is not enough to carry reader through to the end. I always imagine you giving a book the hook, and saying “next!” but that may be a wild speculation on my part.

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    • I always try to stick with a debut if I can, and her writing showed enough promise that I wanted the book to redeem itself in the end! Haha, I actually find abandoning books quite difficult, and struggle on way after I know it’s not working for me. See? I’m nicer than you think… 😉

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    • It’s a pity, because the writing and characterisation is very good but the characters eventually get lost when it gets bogged down in those scandals. Oh well, a promising debut anyway, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops.

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  4. Grrr to editors who refuse to edit!! I can’t help wondering just how many debut books would be made tighter/stronger/better with some much-needed editing. I know very few writers who don’t welcome a second (or a tenth!) pair of eyes on their work. Sorry this one didn’t fit the bill for you, but here’s hoping her next one does.

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    • I often wonder if editors are too polite and don’t like to be critical, but that’s such a fundamental part of their job, especially for debut authors. Maybe I’m being unfair – maybe the editor did tell her the balance was off and she just refused to change it! But it could have been so much better. Yes, even so it’s a promising debut, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops.

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  5. You used one of my favorite emojis 😐, but in this context I kinda hate seeing it! 😑 Just the mention of Hefner’s name turns me off. I always found him to be a rather repulsive looking man.

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    • Ha, sadly a smile didn’t seem appropriate by the time I’d finished this one! Yes, Hefner was a weird one and the I hated the whole Playboy empire – I was one of those feminists who felt women shouldn’t run about semi-naked at work!

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    • Yes, it was a real pity since she had set up the two characters interestingly, with the father as a first-generation immigrant and the daughter as second generation, fully immersed in British culture and having lost touch with her Pakistani heritage. It was a shame when their stories got lost somewhat in these rather dull old scandals.

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  6. What a shame – I thought this sounded great from the summary but it doesn’t seem like it lives up to its promise. Even if I wanted to try it, the scandal was before my time and it doesn’t sound like I would be able to follow it without regular visits to Wikipedia, which is annoying!

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    • It was a pity, because it started out so well and I thought it was going to be a treat. But sadly, the whole BCCI thing bored me even while it was happening and she didn’t find a way to make it more interesting in the book. Never mind – a promising debut, and hopefully next time she’ll get a better balance.

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  7. A very fair review! Even if it was well-written, I wouldn’t feel like delving into those murky events, they were awful enough at the time (though I was only aware of them to a limited extent).

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    • Thank you! Yes, some scandals are more interesting than others and I’m afraid banking scandals rank pretty low on the scale. Maybe if she’d shown the victims it would have had more interest, but really she merely stated that lots of small investors suffered and didn’t show us. Never mind – a promising debut in terms of writing and characterisation, and hopefully next time she’ll get a better balance.

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  8. Hmm I can see the frustration here. I wouldn’t understand these 80s references so I would expect a certain amount of explanation, especially around why this is important in the first place! Your audience is far too narrow if these things aren’t being laid out for every kind of reader…

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    • I wondered how much sense it would make to people who didn’t already know about these old scandals, and the reviews on Goodreads make me think it’s losing people when it gets to that point. Shame, because there’s a lot of potential in her writing.

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  9. Definitely not the book for me, as I am not interested in those scandals at all. I liked the name of the book and I’m happy I read your review, so I know not to get it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a pity it got bogged down in those old scandals since it was much more interesting before it got to that point. Still, I’ll happily read her next book to see if she gets a better balance.

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  10. Oh what a shame – late to the party and nothing new to say but what a let-down on promising writing and characters. Not one for me so I’m glad you’ve explained what’s what with it, as it would have been one I’d have picked up!

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    • It is a shame because there’s lots to like in her characterisation and her take on the cultural stuff. But these old scandals gradually overwhelm the plot. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops!

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