An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?
I like a good legal drama/thriller so You Don’t Know Me was always going to be a book I just had to read, and I was very intrigued by the premise of the reader being a member of the jury. On trial for murder, the unknown defendant sacks his barrister just before the closing speeches and closes the trial himself. His reason for doing this … his barrister had told him to omit the truth.
I loved the unique way You Don’t Know Me is narrated. Mahmood uses the second person throughout so you really get the sense of being a member of the jury as the main character addresses you throughout. Not an easy style to pull off but Mahmood manages it with ease. As the defendant describes his life on the periphery of gang culture, his voice comes across as authentic and genuine with the use of gang slang words. It is clear that Mahmood has undertaken a lot of research in order to make You Don’t Know Me believable.
We do not find out the name or age of the defendant and omitting these details from the book is something I really liked. It makes the narrator enigmatic and intriguing, allowing your imagination to rule, and your ideas and feelings towards them constantly change as the story is unveiled. It also serves to ensure you are guided completely by the story that the narrator is telling and not caught up in any assumptions about the narrator that may occur if these details and descriptions were made available. You are completely reliant on the points of evidence the prosecution team have put forward and the defendant’s explanation for them. Of course, it also fits in perfectly with the title.
Mahmood’s experience as a barrister shines through the pages and many questions are raised in respect of our current justice system. While the jury system represents a fair trial by your peers, can this ever truly be the case? As the narrator describes a life that I am aware of via the media but have no direct experience of, can a jury ever be truly representative of your peers? It therefore begs the question as to whether or not this is really a fair system. The manipulation of evidence by the prosecution and defence is also apparent throughout this book. The defendant fired his barrister as he wanted him to omit parts of the truth and yet we are told to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You Don’t Know Me also raises moral questions in relation to whether murder can ever be justified or understood. Mahmood has written a thought-provoking book as well as a great thriller.
As the defendant’s story progresses you are pulled wholeheartedly into the tale and what the defendant states is the truth about the murder. As all the pieces finally appear to fall into place I was shocked and stunned by the eventual conclusion. But can we believe what we have been told?
You Don’t Know Me is a great debut. Mahmood has written a thought-provoking page-turner that is unique, intriguing, believable and compelling. Guilty or innocent? What will your verdict be?
Published on 4 May 2017 by Michael Joseph.
A huge thank you to Imran Mahmood, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.