Red Laal

Author: M Y Alam

Red Laal

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‘Another gangster with all the presence of a ghost. Just stories you hear over the years. Heavyweight. King shit. Bad arse. Red Laal… If there did exist a Pakistani Don Corleone, then this was him.’

Kilo has fallen down the rungs of the criminal ladder and is once again reduced to dealing small time. Just when he realises he has to make a clean break and get out, along comes Red Laal with other ideas. Unnerved by the revelation of a long-held family secret and seduced by Red Laal’s charms, Kilo is quickly lured back into the criminal fold. But a trail of blood and betrayal leads him back to his ancestral village where he learns that not everything is what it seems. Soon Red Laal will discover what Kilo is prepared to do in the name of justice and revenge.

M Y Alam’s novel is a compelling tale of survival, honour and family values; it is at once a page-turning thriller and homage to his home city of Bradford. In Kilo and Red Laal, Alam has created characters beyond compare in contemporary British fiction.

On the books of M Y Alam

‘Just as you’re about to consign the gangster thriller to the bin of obsolescence, bored stiff by a tide of clichéd storylines, along comes a belter which deserves the highest praise.’ – Matt Baker, The Big Issue

‘One of the most important books to ever come out of Bradford.’ – Telegraph and Argus

‘If this doesn’t win awards, then there is no justice. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?’ – Vic Allen, Artscene


Nick Ahad, Yorkshire Post

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.

Dave Barnett , Bradford T&A

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?’

The Keighley Three

In this extract from Red Laal, Kilo is on a plane to Pakistan and finds himself sat with three lads from Keighley who quietly impress him.

I found myself on a plane, sharing a centre aisle row with a trio from Keighley, a part of Bradford that thinks it’s not. Once in country, these boys would connect, feel heritage, trace roots. Good lads. Decent lads, honest and full of respect. Not what I was used to. I see kids who aspire but can’t be arsed, only living to get their deal on, only believing they’ve done something with their lives once they’re out there and living the dream – dealing slick and chatting quick, slapping their bitches up side their heads, showing more love for their rides than they did for their mothers. Look around and you see them. Maybe they’re kids, maybe they have no idea about nothing, and maybe it’s poverty and maybe it’s a shitty home life, bad role models, biased media. And maybe I don’t believe a word of it but let’s just say it is all that. If it is, then those three had me curious, wondering where and how they fit into the scheme of things, wondering how they escaped the world of the gangster even though it surrounded them.

Keighley, or K-Town as they called it, had a reputation. Always had been good for drugs and thugs, and it existed years before my time. Must have got off the bus early, these three, caught the train instead and were well on their way to good and honest living. Under twenty, single and, of all things, studying serious. One doing Economics, another Pharmacy and the third making a sound like Sport Psychology, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

‘Whereabouts in Keighley?’

‘Just off Lawkholme Lane,’ said the would-be Pharmacist.

I passed through it a few times. One of those spots that’s more Pakistani than Pakistan and that’s no bad thing. Nicer than some parts of Bradford and friendlier, too. People still hang their washing out across the streets, doors stay unlocked all night without worry, not a whiff of that middle-class snobbery that people in Bradford are adopting faster than haggish celebrities can buy foreign kids. As working-class as flat caps, black puddings and whippets, the modern-day equivalents being Nikes, pizzas tasting like curries and Staffordshire pit bulls.

‘So which one of you three is getting hitched?’ I ventured.

As one, they burst out laughing.

‘Wouldn’t be surprised if it was all of you.’

They laid their knowledge on me, dropping science hot enough to burn a hole through my hands.

‘That thing, it might have happened in your day, but not now, Brother.’

My day? Hell, barely a decade older than them, if that. Shit, we couldn’t have been all that different.

‘I got married yesterday,’ I said.

Surprised and intrigued, the Sport Psychologist asked more.

‘You divorced before?’

‘No, nothing like that.’



The Economist in the making reckoned up a calculation.

‘Second wife, right, Bruv?’

The other two smiled with him. A reasonable guess, I suppose, plural marriage. Could have easily been the case for me had my old man’s plan run smooth. Married at eighteen, a wife who didn’t understand why I was such a fuck up, an absent father a year later despite any real connection with her indoors. For comfort, understanding and companionship, I’d take a second wife. One of my own choice, one I loved. My first wife, she’d hate me and so would my child. At least my way, getting out and staying single, I made sure the fuck ups were my own.

‘I’m what you might call a late developer.’

The flight attendant came around with peanuts and drinks. We settled on tiny cans of pop, unlike the bunch of young aapnay a few rows in front of us, already on their way to getting pissed, already the plane fools.

‘So where is she?’

‘She’s coming in a few days.’

‘Congratulations then, Bruv.’

High fives all round.

‘You lads, you got your own things going on? Your folks, they cool with you guys courting?’

‘It’s not like that,’ the Pharmacist said, taking off his glasses, breathing on a lens, giving it a wipe. ‘I wouldn’t do that. Not on, is it? Can’t be having no improper relations before marriage.’

The other two nodded like a pair of monks. These three, they weren’t just rare, they were unreal.

‘We connect with our parents. My dad, he speaks better English than me. He knows the score. He knows he can’t make me marry someone I don’t want to marry. You feel me?’

‘Oh yeah,’ I nodded. ‘I feel you alright.’

‘Easy to explain, Bruv,’ said the Economist.

‘Go for it.’

‘One, marriage without consent is invalid. Our parents, they know that because they seen it themselves. Two, in case they forego one, there’s no future in it, Bruv.’

It’s been hitting the fan a while, now, boys and girls from here hitched to boys and girls from there. Used to be a done deal with no way out. Shit happens. Used to happen. Now, it’s divorce left, right and centre. As the boy said, no damned future in it but as fucked up as it is, there’s still enough of the old guard preferring another time, another place and another way of doing things.

Most lads I know, they don’t really talk. They shout and yell and throw in a few curses for the hell of it. Not an ounce of civility. Just the rush, the urgency to speak and be heard even if it is meaningless, pointless and mostly annoying crap being spewed. With these guys, there wasn’t any of that. I enjoyed their company and the topics they discussed. Turns out it was the same kind of shit I’d been wondering about for years.

‘You know what I hate? I hate that they don’t trust us. White people, they’re on red alert and so are we,’ said the Sport Psychologist, not emotional, not worked up. Just tired.

‘I’m always ready,’ mused the Pharmacist. ‘If something happens, a bomb or something, I’m gonna be talking to white people, saying how bad it is, telling them how sorry I am.’

The Economist laughed.


‘Being serious, guy. They want for us to prove that we’re not evil.’

‘But we’re not evil.’

‘Which is why they need to be told. Someone’s got to make the effort.’

‘How does acting like a bunch of pussies prove we’re not evil?’

The fear, of beard and burkha alike, it’s not gone away yet and maybe it never will. It’s not just the obvious ones to fear, it’s all of us. If we’re not white, we sure aint right. So this is where we’ll stay. Not quite human, incapable of being painted normal and we can’t be ignored. We have to be watched. All the time, like the Pharmacist pussy said, being asked to prove yourself as loyal, as safe and above all, as one of us, is reasonable. Are you sure you don’t want to blow yourself up? You sure you’re not on Jihad? You sure you don’t hate everyone who’s not like you? You sure you’re not the enemy within? You really sure about that? Some people, they got more trust for their dogs than they have for people who even look like the enemy. Inside every one of us there’s something dangerous and it freaks the fuck out of them. That kind of thinking isn’t so new and doesn’t go away on its own. That shit, it’s eternal or as good as.

‘When I first grew my beard, people I’d known all my life started to panic. I’m like, I’m no fanatic, I’m no suicide bomber. I’m just, you know, a normal lad.’

No lie, no hiding this truth. Shit, even to a blind man, they were as Yorkshire as Ilkla Moor, with or baht ’at. Normal. Just normal lads going about their normal lives. Food, football, family, work, life, death and all the little bits in between. No bomb-making factory, no death to the West routine. Clean living, smart thinking, law abiding and, let’s be fair, pretty fucking boring when all’s said and done. And there was me, thinking the species had been long extinct. There was me, thinking my old man was the last of them.

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M Y Alam

Yunis Alam is the author of three novels, Annie Potts is Dead, Kilo and Red Laal. He has had several short stories published and is the editor of Made in Bradford and The Invisible Village, pioneering works of oral history. He is a researcher, lecturer and Head of Department at the University of Bradford.

Book: Red Laal

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