Bloomsbury £11.99

Pao, By Kerry Young

The gangster who just wants to be loved

Kerry Young's energetic debut novel is a pacy but absorbing saga of domestic struggle and gangland manoeuvring set against the violent backdrop of postwar Jamaican politics.

The plot revolves around the fortunes of the family that controls Kingston's Chinatown, and seems to have absorbed plenty of colour and texture from Young's own mixed-heritage upbringing in Kingston.

Invited to Jamaica by Chinese elders in 1912, to protect Chinese interests from local hostility, Zhang brings with him his anti-imperialist disgust at the British exploitation of China during the opium wars. By the time 14-year-old Pao arrives in 1938, sent from China after his father died fighting for the revolution, Zhang is an influential and respected figure, willingly given protection premiums by local businesses and steadily profiting from gambling operations. Pao learns quickly and is groomed as a successor, despite Uncle Zhang's distaste for Pao's protection of Gloria, a straight-talking brothel madame.

Gloria's affection for Pao sours when he marries Fay Wong for her father's wealth. Fay is equally shocked by Pao's hoodlum lifestyle, and miserable without the privileges of her upbringing; her vituperous behaviour causes the emotional upset at the heart of this surprisingly moving novel.

Murder, corruption, blackmail, kidnap and incest drive the narrative, but Young keeps much of the gory detail offstage, or muted in report. Similarly, the mechanics of how Pao's empire operates – in the pink in one chapter and short of cash a few pages later – are vague – often unconvincingly so, which is one of this novel's few flaws. The gangland skirmishes and police chicanery keep the plot ticking over, but are just a backdrop to the progress of Pao's personal relationships.

And there's no shortage of material there: Pao's philosophical approach to problem solving is sorely tried by Fay's efforts to extract herself from his fiefdom, and wrangling over children vexes all parties. Pao assiduously builds alliances with Fay's mother, sister, priest and maid in increasingly desperate attempts to secure his marriage. And he strives to defend the generosity of spirit of his shadowy business decisions, which makes an interesting ethical thread on its own. Gloria's pithy input on this strikes hard, and sharpens Pao's grasp of the fundamental divisions of class, race and cultural identity that define all their lives.

Young deploys snippets from Sun Tzu's The Art of War as chapter headings, which underlines the extent to which Pao's domestic strategy is a campaign to be waged more fiercely than his racketeering. Regular glances at the escalating violence within Jamaican society, as 1962's independence celebrations give way to financial restructuring and crushing unemployment, anchor Pao's fortunes to a landscape of volatile social unrest. Foregrounding Pao's personal travails against Jamaica's complex and deep-seated conflicts gives panoramic depth to this punchy tale of pungent characters and impassioned entanglements.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week