Red Laal by M Y Alam (Route Publishing, £14.99)

Let’s be clear: M Y Alam isn’t going to win any awards from Welcome To Yorkshire for his portrayal of Bradford.

There are pills aplenty in Red Laal, but none of them are sugar-coated in this tale of a Bradford drug-dealer which, while the phrase “warts and all” could have been invented for it, is possessed of a stark honesty and a brutal authenticity and becomes a thing of beauty in the skilled hands of the author.

Red Laal is a follow-up to Alam’s novel Kilo, also published by smart “boutique” house Route, but it works very well as a standalone novel if you haven’t read the first one. You should read Kilo, though, because it’s a pretty nifty piece of work as well.

In Kilo, the titular protagonist – real name Khalil Khan – is a law-abiding young Muslim who suffers a devastating attack which forces him to reassess his world and enter the dark underbelly of Bradford’s twilight criminal world, becoming a major drug dealer in the city.

After the shattering events of Kilo – which are hinted at in the new book but not really necessary to have a full knowledge of to enjoy the follow-up – Kilo has gone to ground, eschewing the higher reaches of Bradford’s criminal hierarchy and contenting himself with low-level dealing to a variety of colourful characters on the Bradford streets.

Kilo is a real dichotomy. You want to hate him for his casual approach to peddling drugs – he sees a need and fulfills it to earn a living. But the flipside of Kilo is that he is a character with an extremely strong moral code – skewed somewhat by the world he lives in, perhaps, but admirable and likeable, despite his chosen profession.

Kilo wants to clean up his act, get out of a life of crime. But blood is thicker than whatever plans he has, and the appearance of Red Laal – a truly and wonderfully frightening character – who calls in old family links and debts, drags Kilo even deeper into the ambiguous world of shadows he’s trying to flee.

Kilo’s acquaintance with Red Laal forces him back up the criminal hierarchy and gives him access to secrets which open old wounds as he returns to the Pakistani village of his fathers on a pilgrimage that puts justice high on the agenda.

Red Laal is a real rough guide to Bradford, an unflinching look at the city’s criminal hinterland, but then MY Alam isn’t in the business of tourism. Every city has its underworld, and Bradford is no different. Red Laal is a smart, tough and authentic revenge thriller best served cold, and marks out M Y Alam as a major name in gritty, contemporary gangster-culture crime writing.

It might be a little early in Alam’s career to say he’s the Bradfordian version of Elmore Leonard, but given a few more novels of this quality, at this pace and in this vein, then who knows?