A selection of reviews for Red Laal by M Y Alam

‘While this is the second book to feature anti-hero drug dealer Kilo from MY Alam, the great beauty of it is that it works as a stand-alone piece, yet you can almost feel the predecessor adding weight to the story. Red Laal is a fine novel, that stands tall on its own, but even if you haven’t read the previous book, Kilo, you can sense this latest book exists in a greater universe than the one you see on the page in front of you.

MY Alam is the pen name of Bradford university lecturer Yunis Alam. That he grew up in Bradford and knows the city like the back of his hand is enormously evident in Red Laal. A previously published academic work by Alam, Made in Bradford, in which he conducted no-holds-barred interviews with some of the city’s young Asian men is also evidenced in the book, so rich and deep is the texture of the world Kilo inhabits. Sometimes it feels as though you can touch the fabric of the world Alam has created.

Kilo is a drug dealer who has a conflict at his centre. He has a strong moral backbone that makes selling drugs troublesome for him. He doesn’t live in opulence with the earnings from his trade – which he clearly could do with more rigour and efficiency if he wanted to – but just earns enough to get by.

With a reputation for being a man who can ‘fix things’ he is called upon to help an ‘uncle’ rescue his daughter who has been led into a life of vice. Kilo taking on the job of helping the girl is the story’s first hint that the drug dealer may have something good at heart.

Helping the girl sets off a series of events that lead Kilo into ever more dangerous territory and a voyage of discovery.

A story that absolutely races along and grips like a vice, Pontefract-based publishers Route deserve credit for publishing this book so handsomely and Alam for creating a piece of work that is utterly shot through with authenticity.’

Review by Nick Ahad in Yorkshire Post

‘Let’s be clear: M Y Alam isn’t going to win any awards from Welcome To Yorkshire for his portrayal of Bradford.

There are pills aplenty in Red Laal, but none of them are sugar-coated in this tale of a Bradford drug-dealer which, while the phrase “warts and all” could have been invented for it, is possessed of a stark honesty and a brutal authenticity and becomes a thing of beauty in the skilled hands of the author.

Red Laal is a follow-up to Alam’s novel Kilo, also published by smart “boutique” house Route, but it works very well as a standalone novel if you haven’t read the first one. You should read Kilo, though, because it’s a pretty nifty piece of work as well.

In Kilo, the titular protagonist – real name Khalil Khan – is a law-abiding young Muslim who suffers a devastating attack which forces him to reassess his world and enter the dark underbelly of Bradford’s twilight criminal world, becoming a major drug dealer in the city.

After the shattering events of Kilo – which are hinted at in the new book but not really necessary to have a full knowledge of to enjoy the follow-up – Kilo has gone to ground, eschewing the higher reaches of Bradford’s criminal hierarchy and contenting himself with low-level dealing to a variety of colourful characters on the Bradford streets.

Kilo is a real dichotomy. You want to hate him for his casual approach to peddling drugs – he sees a need and fulfills it to earn a living. But the flipside of Kilo is that he is a character with an extremely strong moral code – skewed somewhat by the world he lives in, perhaps, but admirable and likeable, despite his chosen profession.

Kilo wants to clean up his act, get out of a life of crime. But blood is thicker than whatever plans he has, and the appearance of Red Laal – a truly and wonderfully frightening character – who calls in old family links and debts, drags Kilo even deeper into the ambiguous world of shadows he’s trying to flee.

Kilo’s acquaintance with Red Laal forces him back up the criminal hierarchy and gives him access to secrets which open old wounds as he returns to the Pakistani village of his fathers on a pilgrimage that puts justice high on the agenda.

Red Laal is a real rough guide to Bradford, an unflinching look at the city’s criminal hinterland, but then MY Alam isn’t in the business of tourism. Every city has its underworld, and Bradford is no different. Red Laal is a smart, tough and authentic revenge thriller best served cold, and marks out M Y Alam as a major name in gritty, contemporary gangster-culture crime writing.

It might be a little early in Alam’s career to say he’s the Bradfordian version of Elmore Leonard, but given a few more novels of this quality, at this pace and in this vein, then who knows?’

Review by Dave Bavid Barnett – Bradford T&A