By Will Humphrey
★ ★ ★ ★
If you are a fan of Ronan Bennett’s gritty, unpredictable crime thriller Toy Boy, then I would highly recommend Jameel Sandham’s crime novel Impeccable. Sandham’s narrative follows a similar road to Bennett’s exploring the dark underworld of drug dealing – thriving on the highs and trying to survive in a world of enemies. The story draws on the unforgiving authenticities of austerity society and its demolishing effects; Sandham uses the Welsh capital as his narrative backdrop and places the main character, Tommy, at the forefront for tackling an array of personal and business-related issues. Tommy has to face the unrelenting struggles of caring for his chronically ill mother, the financial cost of university life and the Tory government taking away his mother’s disability allowance.
These factors all combine and lead Tommy descending into selling drugs, money laundering and murderous violence, as he tries to earn quick and consistent money to support his mother. Along the way, Tommy tries to solve side-narrative like getting homeless people off the streets of Cardiff, running club nights & a clothing business, and building a healthy relationship with his girlfriend Isobel.
From the off, you are thrown into the thick of Tommy’s witty monologue – jumping into a big problem and an offbeat world of student life mixed with a violent, drug-infused environment. One of Tommy’s drug-dealing partners, Arlo, has been raided and arrested by the police – resulting in the king-pin Terry, setting Tommy the task of recovering a seventy-five thousand pound debt…in three weeks.
Sandham’s offbeat narrative works well and it is clever – swinging between the past and present – transporting the reader into Tommy’s troubling journey and giving us glimpses of his successful present. The storyline is engaging and keeps the reader asking questions throughout, actively encouraging them to think – how will Tommy pay his debt? Will his mum survive? And will his risky, careless actions soon catch up with him? At certain points, Sandham cleverly evokes empathy before destroying this with a tornado of unpredictable and violent actions by Tommy. You are never sure whether to be pro or anti Tommy – Sandham doesn’t make it as clear cut as picking a side to support.
The original voice creates realistic and believable characters with each one, perfectly placed in their specific positions within the story. Impeccable features well-formed characters with narrative depth, from Flash, the egotistical jock, who is an arrogant trustafarian and good at all aspects of life, to the siren seductress Olivia, who places all the right bets to tempt Tommy to cheat and lead him astray from his true desires.
The author’s voice confronts provoking, socio-political and real-world issues whilst being intertwined with well-crafted fiction; this combination removes the rose-tinted glasses from the average reader and delivers unexpected, winding twists that knock every assumption and expectation out of your thought process. It isn’t made explicit by Sandham, but it is obvious he draws on the authentic experiences and feeds in plenty of pop culture references to deliver a compelling, believable narrative.
You need to read right to the end of the novel, as it is here that Sandham delivers the final twist and knock-out blow to the reader’s narrative theories. Whether you are a Cardiff student yourself, or a crime thriller fanatic, this is a provoking read that keeps you questioning Tommy’s future until the final page. Give this read, take off your rose-tinted glasses and begin to explore the fictional dark underworld of our beloved Cardiff.