New Welsh Review
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Jameel Sandham’s self-published crime thriller, Impeccable, eerily reminiscent of Ivrine Welsh’s best-selling hit Trainspotting, offers a gritty depiction of a fictionalised Cardiff where drugs reign supreme as one boy spirals into the dangerous web of dealing.
Tommy needs to make money fast in order to take care of his mother, who suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis– an autoimmune system disease that is mostly untreatable. Confined and often bedridden, Tommy’s mother is living a nightmare, which he so desperately wants to save her from. Driven by desperation, he begins selling drugs in his first year of university, and discovers he has a knack for it. His successful business expands into event hosting and running a vintage clothing shop as a means to launder the money he makes. The novel is told excellently in an alternating timeline that allows the reader to witness the extent of Tommy’s past struggles against the backdrop of his current success as a dealer and business owner which, in turn, multiplies the severity of the novel’s main conflict.
The catalyst for the novel is Tommy’s boss, Arlo, getting arrested; the police have confiscated all the drugs in his possession, which results in Tommy being sent on a mission to retrieve a large sum for the drug-dealing Kingpin of the Welsh capital – a man called Terry. The catch is, Tommy only has three weeks to find the money if he wants his family and friends to remain unharmed.
Tommy is a unique character with a strong voice, often cynical about the current British government that he believes is responsible for his mother’s current state. He is incredibly disillusioned about the state of the country, and does not shy away from expressing his disdain. Alongside the love he harbours for his chronically ill mother, anger against ‘the Tories’ is his main driving force in life. He sees the suffering of his country as it truly is, refusing to look away from the ugliness:
Society isn’t made for the unwell, for those who can’t go to the pub or yoga class after working a shitty repetitive job.
Sandham gives Tommy a very real reason to motivate him into delving into the world of crime – something the reader can’t help but empathise with. After his business takes off, Tommy immediately funnels the money into taking care of his mother – taking her to multiple doctors, buying her a house, hiring a professional carer, and so on. He criticises the (current) political structure within the novel while preaching for more humanitywithin a society that’s more or less forgotten how to be humane:
Being around Gary [the homeless man Gary helps] has always been hard. It reminded no matter how hard we work to get somewhere in life, if we don’t all work to help others as well, there will always be suffering. The Everyman for himself model that the UK subscribes to is one of the dumbest and most isolating I’ve ever encountered.
What makes Tommy, and this novel, even more extraordinary is the fact that it’s not black and white – much like real life, he also has undesirable traits. Like Icarus, he gets tempted by the lavishness of his new lifestyle and begins flying too close to the sun. As a result, Tommy ends up losing sight of his original motivation, blinded by money, power, as well as his own hubris.
Sandham masterfully blends the conventionally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ within the main character, as Tommy commits heinous or violent acts which are showcased as counterpoint to later scenes of compassion and selflessness. A good example is his accepting Terry’s money in the casino, entering the morally grey area of gambling, only to later donate all his winnings to charity. Traditionally speaking, Tommy is no hero, yet he commits heroic acts and shows that, despite his flaws, he is worthy of redemption. In the end, he admits to his sins, yet offers no remorse, as he remembers why he set out to do it all in the first place:
I want to cry with joy with sadness, with every emotion I have. And in this moment it all feels worth it, every fucking bit. The risk. The struggle. The blood. The sweat. The tears. For Mum.
Sandham’s novel is easy to consume yet tough to digest as the reader is faced with many moral dilemmas alongside Tommy. Its morally grey narrative challenges society’s traditional outlooks on ‘good’ and ‘bad’, right and wrong, compelling readers to think by offering them a more complex socio-political perspective.
Desi Tsvetkovawas this spring’s reviewer-in-residence, in a new partnership with Swansea University’s College of Arts and Humanities.