Blog tour: 5 to 25 July 2021
I saw it. He smothered her, pressing his hands on her face. The police don’t believe me, they say it’s impossible – but I know what I saw.
Xander Shute – once a wealthy banker, now living on the streets – shelters for the night in an empty Mayfair flat. When he hears the occupants returning home, he scrambles to hide. Trapped in his hiding place, he hears the couple argue, and he soon finds himself witnessing a vicious murder.
But who was the dead woman, who the police later tell him can’t have been there? And why is the man Xander saw her with evading justice?
As Xander searches for answers, his memory of the crime comes under scrutiny, forcing him to confront his long-buried past and the stories he’s told about himself.
How much he is willing to risk to understand the brutal truth?
Set in London, I Know What I Saw, the author’s second novel, tells the story of former wealthy banker, Xander Shute, who has been living on the streets for the last 30 years.
One rainy evening, after an altercation with another homeless man in Hyde Park, Xander is injured and soaking wet and needs to find shelter to avoid becoming ill. He walks away, disorientated, and finds himself in Mayfair, where he notices the lower trade door to a house is ajar. He sneaks inside and falls asleep on the floor of the living room. He’s woken by the return of the residents and quickly hides behind a sofa. The couple are fractious and start arguing and Xander is horrified to hear the situation escalate and, powerless and afraid to help, he witnesses the woman being murdered in front of him.
When the man leaves, Xander makes his escape and decides he must report the woman’s murder to the police. They’re rather dismissive and say he’s mistaken and they keep telling him to stop wasting their time. He’s determined to find out exactly what happened to the woman and his own buried memories slowly emerge and become more regular and vivid as he gets nearer to discovering the truth.
Xander also gets back in touch with friends from his past, who are shocked to see him again after all this time, and this triggers the stirring of various fractured memories in his mind. He struggles to put all the pieces together and can’t work out what is real and what he’s imagining.
Xander is a complicated character – after so many years being homeless, he’s streetwise and self-sufficient but also very vulnerable and there is lots hidden away beneath the surface, which is slowly revealed as the story progresses. He used to have a privileged life – he was a Cambridge graduate and earnt lots of money as a city banker – but there are hints of trauma from his past in flashbacks to memories of his parents, brother, Rory, and former girlfriend.
Over the decades, Xander has learnt to follow various unwritten rules and keep his wits about him to stay safe on the streets and he divides London up into several zones (red, blue, green and purple) and tries to avoid venturing too far into the dangerous (red) and unpredictable (purple) areas. We learn about what life is like on the streets – how Xander tries to stay warm with plastic bags and newspaper, the places he visits to find food and the practicalities of living and sleeping on the streets and being unable to wash properly.
The main protagonist is an intriguing but also very unreliable narrator with memory problems and secrets, and I was never really sure if he was telling the truth as he’s rather confused a lot of the time and keeps getting flashbacks. Despite all this, I had sympathy for this troubled man and found myself hoping he would figure out what on earth was going on! I especially liked Xander’s friendship with a student, Amit, he meets in the local library, who keeps an eye out for him and helps him use the computer.
As the novel progresses, through fragments of memories and remembered events, we start to learn why Xander gave up his privileged existence and all the trappings of wealth for a simple but dangerous life on the streets, free from the constraints of a job, house, money, family and even friends. It’s a dramatic story but realistic and I could easily see how someone could descend to these depths of despair after a difficult past.
Overall, I really enjoyed this compelling and disconcerting murder mystery novel, which was cleverly written and made for tense and uncomfortable reading. The character-driven thriller is gripping, intense and engaging and its tormented protagonist is fascinating. The story is slow paced but well plotted with plenty of twists and turns, highs and lows, and just enough was revealed on each page to keep me thoroughly hooked.
I really must check out the author’s debut, You Don’t Know Me, which I’ve heard such good things about and it’s been on my Kindle for over three years!
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About the author
Imran Mahmood is a practising 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 for 2017, longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and for the CWA Gold Dagger, and is currently being adapted for screen in three parts.
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.
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