How can a man die twice? That's the question facing Detective 'Kubu' Bengu when a mutilated body is found at a tourist camp in northern Botswana. The corpse of Goodluck Tinubu displays the classic signs of a revenge killing. But when his fingerprints are analysed Kubu makes a shocking discovery: Tinubu is already dead. He was slain in the Rhodesian war thirty years ago.
There's something in the water (or maybe it's in the dust) in Africa at the moment. Whilst there has been a slowly increasing number of crime or mystery books set in Africa, there's now an increasing number written by African authors appearing for our enjoyment. Michael Stanley (the South African duo of long-time friends Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip), have now released their second book - A DEADLY TRADE (aka The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu), follow up to the very well received debut book - A CARRION DEATH.
Wrapped up in the well devised plot of a solid police procedural, A DEADLY TRADE is very much a novel of Africa. The setting for the crime obviously helps - a tourist bush camp, made up of tents, set on the banks of crocodile and hippo infested waters. The characters fit so well into that setting - Detective 'Kubu' Bengu the central investigator (Kubu means hippopotamus in Setswana) and Detective Sergeant Joseph 'Tatwa' Mooka (Tatwa - Giraffe in the same language) are the main investigation team, working to solve the disappearance of one man and the killing of two others at the camp. The brutal death of Tinubu is the most baffling of the killings - despite having been declared dead many years ago during the Rhodesian war, he seems to have subsequently lead a blameless and quiet life as a much respected teacher in Botswana. The other two elements that firmly set this book in Africa are the terminology, and a quintessential use of pacing. Whilst the general pace of the book is rapidfire, and the investigation moves constantly forward, there is a wonderful feeling of slowing, of consideration, of reflection whenever Kubu appears in the narrative. There's something about the writing of this character that imparts a feeling of consideration, intelligence and thoughtfulness, a large man physically, Kubu doesn't rush around no matter how hectic an investigation gets. He thinks, he ponders, he eats (very well). Connections have to be drawn between Kubu and Hercule Poroit in the way that they both approach an investigation, Montalbano in the way that they both approach the next meal. Kubu has a family though, and when his beloved wife Joy and sister-in-law Patience are threatened as a result of this investigation, the reader sees a little more than his size as a link to his nickname. Kubu enraged must be a sobering sight!
There is another level to A DEADLY TRADE and that is the glimpses into the ongoing effects of the Rhodesian War, the current day problems in Zimbabwe and the complicated relationship between that country, and the surrounding nations. There are also touches of the problems that beset all nations - drugs, violence and organised crime. The fallout from the Rhodesian War is something that greatly impacts on A DEADLY TRADE, and in the way of all very good story tellers, the implications of that are spelt out in the book without it being a lesson, rather it's a revelation.
A DEADLY TRADE (as with the first book A CARRION DEATH) is just simply good crime fiction. The crime occurs within a social situation and in a social reality that impacts on the actions of everyone. Small events in the past don't necessarily go unforgotten, and brutality often engenders brutality. Adding an African situation to that scenario adds a new twist to the events, at the same time that it shows that human reactions are human reactions, the world over.
Incidentally - there is a cast of characters at the front of the book to help if the unfamiliar names are phasing the reader, and a Glossary at the back which can help with understanding of some of the terminology. As part two in a series of books, it's often best if you've read the earlier book - so that you have a background to all the characters. Having said that, it would be possible to pick up A DEADLY TRADE and start - but that's no reason why you shouldn't also seek out A CARRION DEATH.
AFRICAN PSYCHO - Alain Mabanckou
Gregoire Nakobomayo, a petty criminal, has decided to kill his girlfriend Germaine. He's planned it for some time, but still, the act of murder requires a bit of psychological and logistical preparation.
When AFRICAN PSYCHO by Alain Mabanckou arrived in my book stack, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I've finished it now and I'm still not sure what I got. But I do remember it!
Gregoire is a neglected child - an ugly child - an anonymous child - abandoned by his parents - he's raised in an increasingly haphazard manner really by himself mostly. He vows he will be different. He will be remembered. He vows to escape his humdrum reality and commit a spectacular murder. Just like his idol - the serial killer Angoualima. Angoualima is Gregoire's guide, his mentor, his hero. He's dead, but that doesn't mean that Gregoire is separated from him, often sharing his plans when sitting on Angoualima's grave.
Told in Gregoire's own voice, AFRICAN PSYCHO is a journey into the macabre, the funny, the sad, the desperate and the disturbing. At the same time, there are great sweeping vistas of the absurd - not the least because the author uses the most bizarre names for places - "He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot" is where Gregoire lives. The novel isn't set in a real place, just as Gregoire's life is somehow not quite real.
AFRICAN PSYCHO isn't a book that fits into any "category" that's for sure. It's frequently weird, it's often confusing, but at the same time it's compelling, intriguing and just a little sad. Gregoire's an unreliable narrator in some ways, not by artifice or to manipulate. He's fragile. He's very damaged. The world he lives in isn't anywhere near where the rest of us lead our lives.
It's not an easy book to read, partially because it doesn't fit into any particular pattern or mould. It's also not an easy book to read as Gregoire's somebody who despite everything, that you could very well find yourself caring about - a lot.
GREASING THE PINATA - Tim Maleeny
The author, Tim Maleeny has chosen to go down the wise-cracking PI route and it does serve him pretty well. What doesn’t is a plot that is a little too long on action and short on depth. There are only so many times Cape can fall into the hands of the bad guys and be rescued by Sally before it begins to become a little stale.
GREASING THE PINATA does have some genuinely humourous moments, However, the fight scenes and action sequences overshadow them. My opinion is coloured because I’m not really an action fan. It’s fine on the movie screen, but for the most part I find it tedious in books.
If you’re looking for a quick pacey read, then GREASING THE PINATA might work for you. If you want something with more substance and credibility you may find yourself disappointed.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF - Jenny White
Constantinople, May 1453. In the dying days of the Byzantine Empire, as 7000 armed men prepare to defend the city against the might of the Ottoman Turks, Isaak and his family are entrusted with a purple velvet bundle. Inside is a silver reliquary carved with the figure of a weeping angel and an inscription 'Behold the Proof of Chora, Container of the Uncontainable'. It holds proof of God's existence.
I have to be honest and say that initially the idea of another historical crime fiction novel, set within the Islamic and Christian worlds left me somewhat underwhelmed. Fortunately there is a lot more going on in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF, although I will admit that a large part of the attraction of this book was the central character - Magistrate Kamil Pasha, who is my idea of a detective. A little grumpy, a little shambolic, a man who is able to think through a situation and sees the clues that others may gloss over.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF starts out with the rescuing of a precious reliquary - supposedly containing the Proof of God - smuggled out of a city under attack. Centuries later, the reliquary is in the protection of a shadowy sect - the Melisites, who have kept it hidden in the Sunken Village, built below the city, occupied by the Habesh. When the reliquary is reported as stolen, Kamil must deal with the sect priestess, Balki, who is desperately unwell and her daughter Saba, to whom Kamil feels an instant attraction. When the person who originally told Kamil of the theft is brutally murdered, Kamil's investigation becomes all the more urgent.
The story weaves through events around the sect and into Kamil's investigation from there on. Kamil has been placed in a very difficult position, as he is well aware of corruption in his society. He is also increasingly attracted to Saba and to the beautiful refugee artist who his sister has taken into her home.
What we have in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is a number of pretty standard crime or mystery fiction elements - a secretive society used to its own counsel, a romantic entanglement with complication and a police investigator who must solve the crime despite his superiors lack of support.
Kamil is also, despite his historical setting, somewhat of a typical police investigator as mentioned. That slightly put upon persona, prepared to do whatever it takes to solve the case, complicated in love figure, grumpy, shambolic, but dedicated and with his own brand of cleverness and vision. He's certainly one of the great attractions of this book as he is a character that it is very easy to understand, sympathise or at least empathise with.
The sense of place in this book is reasonably good, although action outside the sect perhaps isn't particularly "Turkish 1800's". The religious elements set the book firmly in a world that is very different from a standard Western society - historical or not.
There are parts of the story that drag a little, and there is sometimes a little too much wallowing around in the comings and goings of the sect and their priestess which certainly add to the historical aspects, but slows the pace too much to remain enjoyable. Having said that, there is exoticism in the story and the character of Kamil is definitely worth sticking with it for.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is the second novel featuring Kamil - the first was THE SULTAN'S SEAL which was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award. You certainly won't be lost if you haven't read the first book, but Kamil is somebody that you might want to get to know a little more. I will be keeping my own eyes open for a copy of the first book.
BEFRIEND AND BETRAY - Alex Caine
Aaah, America. Land of the free, home of the.....free-market economy? Who knew that there are people out there who earn their livings by hiring themselves out to law enforcement agencies, to gather intelligence by infiltrating gangs and organisations? We’re not talking about under cover cops here. These are civilians.
BEFRIEND AND BETRAY is an insider’s story of this complex and murky world where you can trust no one. Not only did Caine have to be wary of the gang he was infiltrating, but he also had to be circumspect about who he trusted in law enforcement. His is a story of creating alternative identities and living on his wits, often for months at a time. It makes compelling reading.
Just how such people live, how they maintain their own identity and the effects on their relationships outside their work is as fascinating as the details of the work itself. In some instances Caine’s story raises as many questions as it answers. Just how effective are these types of operations? The biggest success of his career, Caine feels is his first, the infiltration of the Bandidos. It resulted in dozens of arrests across the USA, Canada and internationally, but ultimately it didn’t put a stop to the gang’s drug-dealing activities. It just slowed it down for a while.
I thought BEFRIEND AND BETRAY said as much about the character of Alex Caine as it did about the gangs he was infiltrating. Caine’s seemingly burning need for danger and excitement appeared to come before anything else. With a trail of failed marriages and estranged children behind him , Caine has finally given up this work. At least that’s what he claims in his book. The author blurb tells us that Alex Caine now works as an advisor on motor cyclegang investigations and is a frequent guest speaker at police conferences. He is a certified fifth-degree black belt martial artist. One does wonder about the ultimate cost of his unconventional life. Will he be alone in his old age or will his desire for living on the edge once more take control and lead him back to old life and ultimately cost him his?
PULP FICTION: THE DAMES edited by Otto Penzler
This is the third volume of pulp fiction short stories that have been mined from various pulp fiction magazines from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. These were the golden years of pulp fiction were the men were men and the women were … well women. The dames of pulp fiction were usually draped over the front covers wearing low-cut outfits and being menaced by some burly, scarred and tattooed ruffian. PULP FICTION: THE DAMES has short stories which don’t only have women on the outside – they have women inside too. Reporters, jewel thieves gangster molls, femme fatales and tarts with hearts are all represented within these 23 short stories. While there are no female PIs, these broads certainly make their presence known, stealing the scenes from the males in the stories.
The stories themselves are mixed – some are really stand out – and others barely raised a yawn. Some of my favourites were ‘Angel Face’ which is about a stripper trying to save her little brother from the electric chair – he’s been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. ‘A Shock for the Countess’ is light-hearted look at the theft of a necklace, and ‘Snowbound’ looks at a battle for power between Queen Sue and a drug dealer called Suds.
Overall this is a good bedside book – you can pick it up, tired and sleepy and peruse a story or two before lights out. These are adventure stories for the most part, none of them are really dull – they may not be as good as others – but everyone is worth reading. There is lots of action, gunplay, devious double crossing cynical women and bodies galore. But the criminals just get on with it and the authors twist the plots, throwing in sex and violence for good measure. These are noir stories, hardboiled detectives and even more hardboiled women
THE FINDER - Colin Harrison
In THE FINDER Jin Li is a young, beautiful and very secretive Chinese woman. Supposedly a supervisor for a company that cleans office buildings in New York, she is actually an information thief who works for her wealthy brother Chen's Shanghai-based company. Chen uses the data she steals to make millions in the stock market. Good Pharma, a company with some promising new products in the pipeline, discover what Jin Li is up to and arrange for her to die. Jin Li escapes the horrible killing as she is conveniently taking a toilet break nearby. However, two of her employees die of suffication when their car is hemmed in by trucks and filled with sewage. Realising that she was the intended victim,
Jin Li goes into hiding. Chen is worried over her disappearance, and hires her ex-boyfriend Tom Reilly to find her after Tom convinces him that he has nothing to do with her disappearance.
From here layer upon layer of plots are laid down. Twists and turns abound with enough back stories to explain how the main players got to where they are today. If you allow yourself the chance to stop and think about the things you are reading, you will realise that reality is stretched disbelievingly wide for a non-fantasy novel. But if you can suspend belief, and not question what you are reading, it is a fast paced adventure full of deliciously evil and wacky villains, who make insider traders look like kindergarten kiddies. The ending is odd – not what I would have expected at all after the remorseless build up. I enjoyed reading THE FINDER, but there was something that I couldn't quite put my finger on that stopped me from loving it.
THE SECRET FRIEND - Chris Mooney
THE SECRET FRIEND is a contemporary American crime fiction thriller. A serial killer with their own desperate and cruel background. A religious element. A corrupt ex-FBI agent. A bad cop. And a CSI - Darby McCormick - as the central protagonist. Darby is pulled into the case of Emma Hale and finds herself up against a lot of things. There's the lack of evidence or an explanation for why somebody would have snatched Emma, kept her alive for months, and then killed her. There's Emma's powerful and wealthy father who wants answers enough to run his own investigation. There's the second student dead in similar circumstances and it's obvious that this killer is not going to stop unless he's caught. There's the either incompetent or corrupt police force that haven't been able to solve the case. There's a pushy and politically motivated senior officer. And finally, there's the lurking presence of the FBI agent gone bad - the vigilante fugitive from law, taking the law into his own hands.
THE SECRET FRIEND may appeal to a particular type of reader. Fans or believers in CSI's actively investigating cases and those interested in the "technical wizardry" that goes along with crime scene analysis. There are certainly snippets of technical information sprinkled through the book which show the depth of the research or knowledge that went into the writing. To help widen the possible appeal, you've got all these other elements built in - the rogue FBI guy with the astounding connections - inexplicably one step ahead of the cops and Darby all the way; the corrupt cop; the serial killer who may just engender sympathy in some readers; the lurking presence of the closed down institution - where all too many horrible events could have occurred.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book doesn't appeal to many readers, but for me it was too much. Whilst it was competently written, the main sub-plot, the rogue ex-FBI agent, just didn't work for me and as he got more and more focus, I got less and less interested. The serial killer's motivations and behaviour seemed to have some potential, but they don't remain the main focus of the book and kept getting lost in the other sub-plots and the snippets of forensic information that were packed in.
ASSASSIN - Ted Bell
A shadowy terrorist kingpin has orchestrated the systematic slaying of American diplomats abroad and, as the death toll mounts, British intelligence agent Alexander Hawke is called upon to avert a cataclysmic attack. From London to Indonesia, Washington to the Florida Keys, Hawke battles it out against a cunning and ruthless enemy bent on destroying the West - while on a personal level he must avenge a senseless crime that has left him devastated.
ASSASSIN is one of those books that has a real feel of a good, old-fashioned over the top, slightly lunatic thriller. One where the bad guys are particularly.. well villainous, slightly comical in some ways. Rich, obscenely rich, evil, powerful, bent on a grandiose evil scheme, the reasons for which don't really matter, the outcome potentially devastating for the free world - the good guys. Think the magnificently over the top James Bond type villains and add the luxury of print - words that can weave an even more unbelievable world than the visual can ever hope to achieve. Cue James Bond. The good guys in ASSASSIN are the archetypal good guys. Hawke is the wealthy, titled, chisel-jawed aristocrat (with the obligatory tragic childhood background). His band of merry men come from all walks of life - legal / slightly dodgy / ex-armed services / police / his butler. They all share their unswerving loyalty to Hawke and their determination to stop the bad guys .... at all costs.
Now there's nothing in these books (ASSASSIN is the second book in the series) that could possibly for one moment seem true to life, or possible, or believable or even vaguely realistic but that's not the point. ASSASSIN is part of that grand tradition that harks back to the good old days of boys own thriller style books - pure, utter, total and complete entertainment, escapism, excitement, jolly good fun.
Overly long - absolutely no doubt about that - there are some parts of the book that probably could have been cut out - but as a reader you can happily edit as you go and not miss the point. Lacking perhaps in a solid and believable plot - doesn't matter, when they are clinging to the side of mountain peaks in the lair of the bad guy, gliders akimbo - who cares that the whole thing is just silly at that point - it's fun, it's exciting. It's the Italian Job (the real one - the original), all the James Bond movies and Alfred Hitchcock's mysteries all rolled into one - with just a touch of romance. Not too much though. Hawke might have a heart but it's thwarted nicely. There's a world to be kept safe after all!
FEARLESS FOURTEEN - Janet Evanovich
Live is never dull in the 'Burg. Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum knows that her boyfriend, Joe Morelli, would rather her job was a little more tame and domestic. Anything really would be acceptable that didn't involve guns, getting her car regularly blown up and being in close contact with the dangerously attractive Ranger, also a bounty hunter on the side. Stephanie lands herself with a teenage son of the 'Burg when his mother fails to make her court appearance and it isn't only Stephanie who is noticing that the kid looks a heck of a lot like Morelli.
Everything is thrown into the pie with FEARLESS FOURTEEN, with most of the supporting cast from previous novels poking their heads into the mayhem. This is comforting and familiar territory for the regular reader, and not at all a bad thing. Dear Stephanie's antics are pretty much the same as they always have been, and Evanovich remains a genius with the snap and sass of her character's life collisions. The everyday is hilarious and the stoic forward motion of Stephanie Plum when friends and foe alike go off on their own little tangents around her is something to be admired. From potato bombs to reluctant grooms (don't worry, this is not a spoiler), Evanovich finds something to work with in every situation and continues to do a sterling job in making the reader laugh at her cast, while adoring them also.
The character of Steph has had a rest from life changing decisions and is in a holding pattern here with FEARLESS FOURTEEN, making one wonder how much further this series can go. The Plum novels have all been brilliantly good fun and should go out on a bang rather than with a whimper. The laughs are a little less, the madcap begins to seem a bit repetitive and the hammering of the supporting characters little foibles is beginning to be a bit tiring. Every book in the series has been a fun diversion from more serious reads and they have earned their place in the affections of many who now just pick up each book to catch up on what Steph, Morelli and Ranger are up to.
Who can resist a novel that features a humping monkey, gamer grannies and a fast-food joint called "Cluck-in-A-Bucket"? Enjoy FEARLESS FOURTEEN.