‘You Don’t Know Me’ – Imran Mahmood

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?

This was an interesting format-told through transcripts from court. We focus on our unnamed narrator, who is on trial for murder, and who gets to tell his story in his own words. This created a rather claustrophobic atmosphere, and though you wanted the narrator to stop talking at times – you can picture just how well some of the information given would have gone down – I admired the voice and the insight he tried to give into his existence.

Part of me expected a straightforward retelling of a story with a final focus on the decision. While we were given a story, it didn’t quite go as expected.

The actual telling of the story building up to the shooting for which he is in court meanders all over the place. We twist and turn as details are passed over because they don’t quite fit at this moment, and we have to trust our narrator knows what he’s doing. Given his position, it does make it hard to decide to what extent we’re getting a brave attempt to recreate his life for us, and how much we’re listening to the delusions of someone trying to escape justice.

The voice of the narrator is, sadly I think, representative of many young black men in court. Much is made of the advice he is given to ‘play the jury’ and to present himself in the best light possible. Does the truth matter? Our narrator thinks so, even if it doesn’t present him in the most favourable light. He is keen to stress that those judging him don’t know the reality of his life and are judging stereotypes.

The story unfolds quite slowly, but it worked. We learn what our narrator tells us about the events he is caught up in. Did he shoot the man? It almost doesn’t matter, as we’re so focused on his account of what he recalls. What I was frustrated by was the sense of inevitability to his experience.

I would like to thank NetGalley and publishers Michael Joseph for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest review.

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