Book Review

I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood

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?

I adored Imran Mahmood’s debut novel, You Don’t Know Me – I loved the way in which it explored a courtroom drama from a different angle to most novels.  I Know What I Saw has a similarly unusual protagonist, as we’re introduced to Xander Shute – a Cambridge graduate and a once wealthy banker who gave it all up several years ago and who has lived on the streets ever since.  It’s a different perspective to most novels, and something that sets this novel apart from the crowd. 

We first meet Xander as he seeks shelter on a damp and dreary night in London.  It’s a scenario that helps to highlight the reality for those who are homeless, and the considerations to be taken as to location, warmth, food, and how best to avoid inclement weather.  After a spat with a fellow homeless man, he finds himself in Mayfair, and can’t believe his luck when he finds a door left ajar, the owners nowhere to be seen.  Entering to shelter for the night in more comfort than he’s accustomed to, he is forced to hide when the owners reappear.  His discomfort turns to fear, however, as he witnesses an argument between the couple – an argument that escalates into violence between the two and that results in the woman’s death. 

Selflessly, Xander informs the police of the incident despite his questionable presence at the scene, but they’re quick to dismiss his statement.  They tell him that he can’t possibly have seen what he claims, and after a basic investigation, dismiss his claims, accusing him and eventually charging him for wasting police time.  But Xander knows what he saw, and he is determined to find evidence that will make the police listen to him and take his claims seriously.  What follows is an intriguing novel as Xander seeks for the truth – a quest that will force him to revisit aspects of his old life and the painful memories that he has long since buried.      

As the novel progresses, we learn more about Xander.  There’s a difficult childhood in which his father seems to delight in setting Xander and his younger brother, Rory, against each other.  He goes on to study mathematics at Cambridge, where he also meets his girlfriend, Grace.  I found that this posed many questions – where are these people who love and care for him now, and what was it that made him give up everything?  The answers are revealed slowly, and we start to build a picture of Xander as an intelligent, well-educated, and wealthy young man who gave it all up and who has since endured the hardship of living on the streets.  It is, of course, complicated, and I appreciated the gradual reveal of set him on his current path. 

I Know What I Saw is a relatively slow-paced novel that will keep you turning the pages for more as you follow Xander in his attempt to obtain justice for this unknown woman.  It’s a painful journey for Xander as he battles with the fallibility of memory, trying to piece together what he knows and seeking answers to the questions he has – difficult when most of society looks down on you with contempt.  There are plenty of surprises along the way, and I enjoyed the way the novel unfolded – it’s incredibly clever, and I was gripped throughout. 

I Know What I Saw was published in June by Raven Books – it’s available now in hardback, eBook, and audio formats.

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