The Fortune Men is the novelisation of a murder and of the wrongful conviction of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor, in Cardiff in the 1950s. The book is written from the perspective of Mahmood and occasionally of the murder victim’s sister Diana. The racism and incompetence of the police are highlighted, as is Mahmood’s struggle to understand and accept that the fair society and justice system he envisioned for the UK is an illusion. As we know, 70 years later there has been little improvement.
Unfortunately, this was not the book for me. I thought the characters and setting didn’t come alive, which really surprised me as Tiger Bay sounds interesting and atmospheric. Perhaps this is out of an abundance of caution from the author to keep the story faithful and representative of the truth, which I appreciate. However, I thought the novel was dry, and only finished it because it’s part of the Booker shortlist challenge I set for myself.
As the book is about a real-life crime and tragic miscarriage of justice, I’ll just leave it there. The writing is competent and although the dialogue is not always convincing, there are no major weaknesses in terms of technique. I would recommend this book for someone interested in learning about the case and would approach it almost as a work of nonfiction, as the story didn’t come alive in the way that I personally would look for in a novel.