BAIT - Nick Brownlee

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Book Title: 
Bait
ISBN: 
9780749928841
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Book Synopsis

As a boy, George Malewe had gutted thousands of fish for the white men who came to catch game off the coast of Mombasa.

But as he plunged the blade of his favourite teak-handled filleting knife into the soft underbelly and eased it upwards through the stomach wall with a smooth, practised sawing movement, it struck him that he had never before gutted a white man.

Book Review

The latest "it" in crime fiction can be pretty common.  Sometimes it's a plot elements, sometimes it's locations for books, sometimes it's the home location of the author themselves.  The "it" thing I'm coming across a lot at the moment is books set in Africa.  Not that you could possibly complain if the books are the standard of BAIT.

BAIT is set in Kenya, and whilst the setting is used to good effect - the scenery, the animals, the weather, what is really used well is the society (emerging / building / dealing with the after-affects of civil unrest) and the people themselves.  There is also an almost matter-of-fact approach to violence.  It's actually quite interesting the way that the story will suddenly burst into extreme violence - with an almost dismissive regard for human life and quickly step away.  The reader may quickly find themselves in a bar, on a boat or deep in the musings of a good and decent policeman's mind.  It is this contrast that is one of the things that I really enjoyed about BAIT.  It enhanced the feeling of a society very much on the edge - where the rules are slightly different than they are in more settled or peaceful locations. 

BAIT is set around two main characters - Jouma the Kenyan policeman, a man with very firm personal boundaries, somewhat buttoned up and stiff on occasions, a good man in a world where it is very easy not to be.  Jake is an Englishman - an ex-London copper, he's your classic fringe dweller.  He came to Kenya to move away from his past - but he's not a stereotypical tortured soul, he's aware of his past but he's not "running" - he's gone somewhere where he feels comfortable to start again and in the process he's found himself on the fringe of English expectations and well within the norm in a wilder world. 

The investigation at the centre of this book starts off as a series of small events - the explosion of a charter fishing boat and the death of its skipper, the discovery of the remains of a young black man, the arrival of the dead skipper's daughter.  As a number of smaller investigations start to converge Jouma is trying to work out the significance of the young man's death and Jake is trying to work out who wants to kill him.  They team up more by accident of circumstance than any particular plan to get to the bottom of a very messy story of human greed and violence.

The book is in someways a police procedural, although the nature of those "procedures" are controlled very much by the levels of corruption in the official classes, combined with a general feeling of a chaotic society.  What we might class as lax procedures, seems highly evolved and very sophisticated in light of what's going on around the police.  There is also the unofficial sidekick element - Jake isn't operating as a policeman and he's definitely not using any form of procedures when he gets involved in the action.  It's also very dark in places - but not consistently throughout the book.  There are moments of extreme violence, there are moments of funny.  There's even some romancing going on (only a little for those who hate that sort of thing in their crime fiction).  There's a lot of pace, and there's a quite a bit of tension and there are just a few plot elements that you won't see coming, alongside a few that you will.  It's also a debut book, which shows real potential - Jake and Jouma are just made for a series and Kenya is a perfect setting for them both.

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