Review - The Murderer's Daughter, Jonathan Kellerman
A brilliant and dedicated psychologist, Grace Blades has a gift for treating troubled souls and tormented psyches - because she bears her own invisible scars. Only five years old when she watched her parents die in a bloody murder-suicide, Grace took refuge in her fierce intellect and found comfort in the loving couple who adopted her. But her now-accomplished life has a secret side, ruled by an insatiable desire; by night she pursues the addictive thrills of sexual trysts with strangers.
Jonathan Kellerman is taking a break from his long running Alex Delaware series (thirty books and counting) to focus on a new type of psychologist. Just to keep fans happy, Delaware is name checked a couple of times early on as a colleague of Dr Grace Blades, the protagonist of The Murderer’s Daughter. But Grace is a very different character to Delaware, probably deliberately so, and this is both a positive and negative.
Dr Grace Blades is a psychologist who helps people deal with significant trauma. She speaks from experience having had an extremely traumatic childhood herself. When someone from her past turns up and is then killed, Grace, rightly as it turns out, fears for her life and begins a quest to find out who is responsible. Intercut with this story is detail of Grace’s backstory as a brilliant but traumatised five-year-old passed through numerous fostering situations that eventually takes her story to the present.
Grace is a less touchy-feely, more action oriented character than Alex Delaware. She is cold and has difficulty making connections, all of which is explained, but it also makes her difficult to warm to or cheer for as a character. She deals specifically with clients who have dealt with trauma and shows her compassionate side here but even that is only a professional compassion. Grace is fiercely intelligent, a point that is consistently made, which helps her build a picture of her adversary out of a series of fairly tenuous connections.
Given the circumstances of its protagonists and the people she is tracking down, this book could have been a scathing indictment of the child welfare system in the United States. But all of that feels like window dressing. If anything, the plot ends up being an extended nature versus nurture argument. For Grace, who’s history we learn in great, often tedious detail, it seems that her nature set her up for some form of success despite a tough childhood. For her adversary, things are not so clear. Most of what the reader learns about him is supposition based on Grace’s investigation and her own experience and then an all too brief encounter in which he is clearly “bad”. The question as to whether this is innate or due to his being raised by a cult is never considered.
In the end the whole book feels like a very lengthy set-up for a new series. Most of the focus is on Grace’s past which, while occasionally interesting, is fairly banal. The plot itself mainly involves Grace’s investigation. While she is harassed and followed, she deals with this threat quickly and competently and never really seems in danger. There is very little in the way of tension as Grace moves closer to her target and the climax, when it finally comes, is short, sharp and decidedly anti-climactic. This is then followed by a strange coda, written in a different tense, which seems to imply that Grace Blades will return.
This whole book feels like it emerged from backstory notes that Kellerman wrote when developing his new character. If this is the case, there is hope that Grace may develop in more interesting sequels. However, as either an introductory or stand alone novel this effort does not make the grade.
BACKTRACK - Jason Dean
Sometimes a man must take a step back to move forwards...
In a small, sleepy Pennsylvania town, the staff of a loan store find themselves at the mercy of a gunman who demands they hand over the store's entire cash reserves. But when the sound of police sirens shatters the silence sooner than expected, the robber is forced to take a young female customer hostage in order to make his escape.
Sometimes a man must take a step back to move forwards... and sometimes he just has to get up close and into a lot of faces. Either way James Bishop is exactly the sort of bloke you want to see looming up behind the disaster that life can sometimes turn out to be.
BACKTRACK is the second James Bishop book from Jason Dean, in, so far, two rather good, solid thriller books with a flawed but resilient central hero. Bishop, former marine, wrongfully accused prisoner, close protection bodyguard now disappearance expert manages to extricate a young woman from a nasty husband with suspect involvements, into a new identity and life with considerable aplomb. So he's not best pleased when it turns out that she's subsequently vanished. Bishop has a bit of history with obligations he messed up, and he isn't going to let that happen again. So he is determined to find Sonja Addison and how come there are other blonde, young women disappearing as well?
One of the most common things about a lot of thrillers of this kind, is that the central threat's got to be big and bold and just that bit out there. In this case whilst it might be a bit difficult to swallow the ultimate reason, there's something very convincing about the idea that women could just drop out of sight from disparate locations and backgrounds and have nobody make a connection, until a suspended female cop and an ex-marine with a tricky past accidentally fall over each other in the middle of their individual searches.
Of course it doesn't hurt in the acceptance stakes that Bishop is quite an interesting central protagonist. Far from perfect he's got enough of energiser bunny syndrome to be exciting and enough aches and pains to be plausible. It helps also that his sidekick in this adventure, Clarissa Vallejo, suspended cop, secret lover and particularly talented car driver is also a strong character who contributes, rather than stands around or causes complications.
This really is a great thriller series, with a central character who is definitely somebody you'd want on your side. Not the least because he's somebody who is not so good, so perfect, so invincible that you don't end up with a sneaking desire to barrack for the baddies once in a while. With a strong, capable and well-developed female sidekick in BACKTRACK, any slight wobbliness in the plot believability was a mere hiccup in what was, overall, a most enjoyable and fast-paced adventure.
THE LONER - Quintin Jardine
Xavier (Xavi) Aislado is a gentle giant, half Spanish and half Scot, brought up in Edinburgh by his grandmother Paloma Puig, a ferocious old lady whose grim brand of care sees him into his teens, until his father moves back to Spain, leaving him to grow up fast. His emergence into manhood is colorful and eventful. After a short career as a professional footballer, he turns to journalism with a bloody introduction to the trade, as his first assignment ends in violent death.
A standalone novel from the author best known for his Bob Skinner series, THE LONER was a real surprise package.
Styled as an autobiographical account of the author's friend, journalist Xavier (Xavi) Ailsado, THE LONER is partially the recollections of the central character, partially the observations of the narrator. It's an affectionate telling of Xavi's life, from his beginnings in Scotland, the son of a local mother and a Spanish refugee. His father and grandparents having settled in Edinburgh after they were forced to flee from Franco's regime. It's a story of family that stays together and family that fractures all at once.
Xavi is a gentle giant of a man, raised by his grandmother, until she and his father, a successful businessman return to Spain, leaving him with money, a place to live, a real connection with them and the chance to grow into his own person. Despite his potential as a professional footballer, Xavi is not that upset when injury ends that possible career, as exposure to newspapers via his father's latest business venture - the media in Spain - has convinced him that journalism is what he really wants to do. His life seems comfortably, and somewhat boringly predestined, with a childhood sweetheart fiancé, a good job, a place to live, and a secure self-image and almost abnormal control for a young man of his age.
Told with great restraint, there is, however, a sense that something is not quite right drawing the reader in. It was actually quite surprising how quickly the book engaged, and kept the reader's interest, particularly as there isn't a crime up front, there's no investigation, there's nothing of the normal stylings that you expect in some measure from crime fiction. Told mostly from Xavi's viewpoint, interspersed with snippets that give the reader just enough clues or hints to wonder, the book is a slow burner. The structure is also intriguing, opening with a "co-author" note from Jardine, taking off in an autobiographical style, heading into the ups and downs of what seems, on the face of it, to be a reasonably ordinary life, not only is it very hard to tell where it's heading, it rapidly became just about impossible to not be intrigued.
Obviously, THE LONER is something a little different. It's not about the investigation of a crime or the identification of a perpetrator. It's not about justice or explanation or retribution. It's the story of strongly-held beliefs, love, and how truth can be manipulated, even if sometimes with the best of intentions. It's a character study and Xavi is the sort of character that many readers will feel a direct, close, personal and real connection with. It's also not a particularly straight-forward or even an always easy book to read. But it is a very memorable one.
THE WRONG MAN - Jason Dean
In this adrenaline-fuelled thriller from Jason Dean, former Marine James Bishop only has one opportunity to make his prison break. And one chance to prove he isn't responsible for the murders that put him inside.
Three years ago Bishop was the leader of a elite close protection team assigned to safeguard a millionaire and his daughter. After being attacked, Bishop regained consciousness to find seven bodies strewn throughout the millionaire's Long Island mansion – including those of his two charges – and a mountain of evidence guaranteed to send him down for the murders.
I've got to start rationing this sort of thriller. I'm starting to develop a bit of a twitch when there are any loud bangs anywhere, and don't get me started on the reaction when anybody a bit furtive-looking is walking towards me on the streets of the local towns.... Although I will admit there's something rather appealing about close protection bodyguards. Except maybe not the lot that James Bishop gets himself mixed up with in THE WRONG MAN.
Bishop's been framed, and the initial action in the book sets up the circumstances of that event at breakneck pace, continuing that right to the very last page. A debut novel, THE WRONG MAN also has an interesting plot which seemed refreshingly unique to me. His ex-military background is part of what got him the job, and got him involved with the people that are trying to screw him over. It's part of the reason for his actions and his abilities, but that's about where the military style involvement ends. We're not talking politics, or lurking baddies of <insert your threatening culture / belief system here>. Just a good old fashioned "I was framed yer honour", and a bit of hard graft to sort it all out.
Sure Bishop's another stoic loner and more than a bit of an energiser bunny type, who gets the girl and then doesn't quite know what to do about it. There is a bit of daft fem-jep going on which was mildly disappointing, although there was some redemption of that towards the end. Of course there are lurking baddies in the picture, but mostly it's about self-interest, and most of them are very matter of fact about Bishop as a threat to their own agendas. There's also a satisfying level of special effects type action, and a lot of personal jeopardy and bugger the consequences going on, but that's balanced well with a plot and some characters that you can get a bit of a connection with.
THE WRONG MAN was one of those books that was a sit down and read in one sitting. It was highly entertaining, exciting and a nail-biting at points, overall a satisfying, good debut novel. Hopefully there are more from this author in the pipeline.
THE STRANGER YOU SEEK - Amanda Kyle Williams
In the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer, a killer is pushing the city to its breaking point, preying on the unsuspecting, writing taunting letters to the media, promising more death. Desperate to stop the Wishbone Killer before another victim meets a shattering end, A.P.D. lieutenant Aaron Rauser turns to the one person he knows can penetrate a deranged mind: ex–FBI profiler Keye Street.
Confession time (again!) I wasn't going to read this book. Nothing personal. I just looked at the blurb, saw serial killer and thought... over them. But, long story short, there was this homework assignment, I thought ... proof copy, grabbed the first one I saw, and no homework was done. Could not put THE STRANGER YOU SEEK down.
The thing that really grabbed me was the central character - Keye Street. She's got one of those voices that can really appeal to this reader. A recovering alcoholic with a failed marriage, and a partially acknowledged attraction to her best friend, mentor and cop Aaron Rauser she's a fabulously complicated character. One of her own greatest critics, Street's got a very chequered background - going from rising star FBI profiler with two university degrees and an enviable criminal profiling track record, to working for herself, making ends meet serving subpoenas, chasing down bail skippers and looking for missing cows.
Obviously there are going to be comparisons drawn with Grace Smith / Stephanie Plum and the like. Whilst there are elements that are just about identical - the job description alone is enough to get you thinking in that direction. Add a slightly madcap family; romantic tension; a hefty dose of personal lunacy and a rushing around investigation style and there is a point in the book where you do wonder about the similarities. For this reader, however, there are some marked differences. Some nuance about the humour, some of the self-awareness in the character, but probably the biggest difference is a real sense of desire to move on. The madcap family (sans Grandmother, but with a mother and father who fill in the personality requirements quite nicely), is built around the adoption, by her extremely Southern American sensibility parents, of Street (Asian American) and her brother (African American). Both the parents have starring roles in the humour department, which was subtle, and clever and frequently laugh out loud funny. Humour, in particular, is something that does not always travel well culturally, and for this Australian reader, much of the conflict between Street and her mother, and between her mother and father, worked really well - with a stand-out being the father's recitation of grace, which had me roaring with laughter.
The point of these books isn't just the humour. There's a serious investigation going on, although built around a serial killer, that has some hints and tips along the way that could make a reader wonder if there is something slightly different going on here.
Street also isn't just what you see is what you get. There's depth, roundedness, flaws and good points to her character that are very engaging. There's an acerbic, pointed and enlightening internal voice that works, not just to give you a chance to get to know the character, but also makes her quite real. Her supporting cast is relatively well fleshed out also, although, obviously as this is the first book, the concentration is pretty heftily on the main character. The serial killer thread is nicely done this time, with a final twist in the tail that I simply did not see coming.
That's not to say that everything is perfect and there are some rather hamfisted attempts at humour which don't quite hit the mark... not the least is a tendency to see sexual desire in every lesbian character that Street encounters, but all in all, thanks to THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, once again, "over serial killers" needs an equivocation clause.....
A NOBLE KILLING - Barbara Nadel
Istanbul: the sight that greets Inspector Cetin Ikmen is horrific. The girl was burnt alive in her own bedroom. Was it suicide or murder? When her father shows no emotion at the death of his seventeen-year-old daughter, Ikmen starts to dig deeper.
Another series that I really should be doing a better job keeping up with as Barbara Nadel writes about Turkey in a way that's vivid, believable and extremely entertaining.
A NOBLE KILLING is the 13th book in the Inspector Cetin Ikmen series, although it might be fairer to combine that with Inspector Mehmet Suleyman who seems to have raised his profile in this book. (Needless to say I'm behind, so I'm not sure if this is a phenomena in this book or something that's been ongoing). Not, I suspect, would Suleyman be that thrilled with his starring role here as most of the concentration is firmly on his extra-marital activities.
The core subject matter of A NOBLE KILLING is a confrontational issue - the so called "honour" killing of young girls who have, according to their family's belief in restrictive social rules, behaved immorally. There are other elements built into the story - marital infidelity, the class structure that drives relationships, homosexuality, the tensions between secular and Islamic Turkey and the difference that a shift of people from more conservative rural areas into Istanbul is having on areas of the city. Whilst the subject matter is, frequently unflinching, the style of telling the story is measured, often demonstrating the difference between fanatical adherence to an interpretation of faith, and more tolerant and accepting attitudes.
The book starts out with the burning death of Gozde, the teenage daughter of a couple from rural Turkey. Inspector Ikmen is aware of a number of suspicious deaths of young girls, with the coincidence that all of their families become financially constrained after the girls die. Whilst there are some sectors of Turkish society that have always supported these sorts of honour killings, often calling upon young family members to commit the murder as they are less likely to incur heavy sentences, it seems that there's something even more sinister going on and Ikmen is determined to stamp it out. At the same time, a violent killing takes place in another part of the city, the victim a homosexual music teacher, stabbed in his bed. Two of his teenage students again draw the eye of the police. One boy is the spoilt son of a wealthy family; the other the son of drug addicts, his mother a street prostitute, he has become a radicalised Muslim. The investigations into both threads of the book are, however, hampered by Suleyman's professional neglect and interference, as well as the complicity of the the girl's own families in their deaths.
Given that A NOBLE KILLING is tackling the difficult subject of religious and social dictates that are used to control, subjugate and frequently kill women and girls who do not adhere to the "rules" established by others, it is a careful, considered and thoughtful book. There is consideration given to the background of the victims and their families, to the nature of personal relationships where there is a power imbalance and to the consequences of actions or inactions on those family members. Nadel also contrasts the more fanatical, strict side of Turkish and Islamic society well with the liberal, tolerant aspects. She uses different aspects of society and the people to do that. Drawing a connection between familial dictates and Suleyman's gypsy lover Gonca, as well as taking that tension right into a family with one religious, devout brother and his policeman, non-devout brother learning to live with each other's beliefs and lifestyle. They are particularly illustrative touches, in what is a fast moving, atmospheric and gripping book which provides a reader with an immersion feeling for Turkey, it's inhabitants, and a society dealing with a very current day challenge.
DEATH OF THE MANTIS - Michael Stanley
When a Kalahari ranger is found dead in a dry ravine, his corpse surrounded by three Bushmen, the local police arrest the nomads. Botswana's Detective 'Kubu' Bengu investigates the case and is reunited with his old school friend Khumanego, a Bushman and advocate for his people. Khumanego claims the nomads are innocent and the arrests motivated by racist antagonism. The Bushmen are released but, soon after, another man is murdered in similar circumstances. Are the Bushmen to blame, or is it a copycat murder?
DEATH OF THE MANTIS is the third book in the Detective David 'Kubu' Bengu series from writing duo Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears, under the pen name of Michael Stanley. (For those that haven't read this series 'Kubu' means hippopotamus which is a commentary on Bengu's size.) I remember, before this book was completed, the authors explaining the life and plight of the Bushman, a race of people who come from the Kalahari Desert, who traditionally live a nomadic, simple existence with their own sacred places, rituals and beliefs - not unlike our own Aboriginal races lifestyle and plight. This aspect was part of the reason I've been greatly looking forward to this book, and I was not at all disappointed. The glimpse into Bushman culture was fascinating, and the other aspects of this series - the humour, the personalities, the mystery were solid.
Bengu and Khumanego were unlikely friends at school just taking their comparative physical attributes into account, but their friendship was based on their joint status as outsiders. Khumanego calls on Bengu after many years of no contact to seek his help when two Bushman hunters are arrested for the murder of a park ranger - an anathema to basic Bushman belief on the sanctity of all life. Meanwhile tribal elder Gobiwasi is revisiting the memories and places of his youth - preparing for his own death in the time-honoured tradition of Bushman culture.
At home things have changed for Bengu and his much loved wife Joy - who are now parents to daughter, Tumi. Tumi's arrival has undoubtedly caused disruption in Kubu's happy home life, and somewhat unexpectedly, Kubu seems to be a little distant, disinterested even in the turmoil his beloved Joy is feeling. This is, perhaps, the only area of these books that may cause a little disquiet in some fans of the series - it does seem that Kubu is being just a tad old-fashioned about this child raising business - absenting himself to follow the case, perhaps not as sensitive to Joy's difficulties as you'd have expected. Other than this slightly odd personal characteristic, Kubu is still Kubu. Implacable, inclined towards the cerebral end of detecting, Kubu is patient, careful and painstaking. But in DEATH OF THE MANTIS he also does something unexpected, something dangerously close to a major mistake,
As befits a continent the size of Africa, the range of crime fiction coming out there is widening, it seems, every day. DEATH OF THE MANTIS is a police procedural, with a distinct African feeling to the action, and whilst there are plenty of deaths and mayhem they aren't extremely violent, nor could you ever say they are on the cosier side. Perhaps the better definition is personality driven, police procedurals, with a real feeling of life in Botswana and highlighting of real, and important issues. Hence I found the window into the life of the Bushmen most rewarding. The similarities between much of their culture and our own local Aboriginal cultures was enlightening, and it was saddening to see the same sorts of insensibility and disregard in the other cultures of both countries.
Delivered with a touch of gentle wit and a personality that seems to fit perfectly in a hippopotamus of a man, Bengu feels intrinsically part of the landscape. The crimes that the authors work into their books come from that landscape, as do the investigations and the solutions. Botswana is as much a part of these stories, as is Bengu's family, his friends, colleagues and in the case of DEATH OF THE MANTIS the Bushmen, the victim's, and the motivation for these crimes which all seem to just be perfectly of the place that they come from. It will be interesting to see how fans of the series react to this book, but it would be even better to see new readers immerse themselves in Bengu's Botswana.
(All the books come with a glossary and a pronunciation guide for readers who like to know the details of what they are reading about).
IF IT BLEEDS - Duncan Campbell
Britain's best known gangster, Charlie Hook, wants to tell his life story and chooses crime reporter Laurie Lane as his reluctant ghost. But the next day Hook is dead, his blood and hair on the walls of his north London mansion.
Who has killed the last of the London Godfathers, the man who used to be a driver for the Kray twins? Laurie needs to find the killer to keep his job.
Every now and then it does a dedicated crime reader's heart good to read something that proves that there's nothing better than not taking yourself too seriously. And if there's ever a fictional character that can't afford to take himself too seriously it is crime reporter Laurie Lane. His wife has walked out on him (he did eventually twig she wasn't there), his daughter's remained at home, somewhat indulgent but equally pointed in her opinions of her father. At the newspaper he's being investigated for fiddling his expenses, but there's a distinct smell about that. Especially as his editor seems to be pushing him out of the job because he's not multi-media savvy enough (aka getting too old). When, for some reason, Charlie Hook decides that Lane is just the person to write his autobiography, Lane's not too sure whether he should be disappointed or relieved when somebody shoots Hook.
In an effort to save his job, and to prove the rumours he's being fed are part of his sharp, up-to-date reporting contacts, Lane must find a missing Russian mafiosi, prove who killed Hook, write the scoop, win the pub trivia quiz, and sort out what the attractive young picture editor's real intentions are. Preferably quickly.
Needless to say IF IT BLEEDS is a lot more fun than you'd think the shooting murder of an aging London gangster by Russian mafiosi figures would be. But then it's also not a good idea to believe everything you read in the paper (or on a book's blurb). Okay, so the plot takes somewhat of a secondary role to the pub trivia, deliberate bad jokes, and newsroom shenanigans, but the investigation is there. The tone of the book seems to match perfectly with what you'd expect from an aging newspaper reporter, somewhat bewildered by the way his life has gone, but determined to keep looking until something recognisable pops up.
Often low key, dry and wonderfully observant, IF IT BLEEDS was good fun, with a sneaking suspicion that snippets from the life of an old crime desk warrior were all too real.
WONDERFUL TODAY - Pattie Boyd
Pattie Boyd was at the heart of the Sixties revolution; the most famous muse in the history of rock 'n roll. She married both George Harrison and Eric Clapton - two of the most addictive, promiscuous musical geniuses of the twentieth century - and inspired Harrison's Something and Clapton's Layla. An international model who was welcomed into the Beatles' inner circle, hers was a life of passion and loss, fuelled by drink and drugs.
If you had asked me what I was expecting before I picked up this auto-biography, I doubt I could have told you. Maybe a bit about what it was like, really like, to be within the inner circle of the Beatles. A feeling for the how it was in the beautiful, swinging, mad, crazy 60s "it" crowds. Perhaps some sex, drugs and rock and roll, maybe even a little gossip. Written by the muse of two of the most famous musicians around I was hoping to see what it was about this woman that influenced / engendered that reaction in men who - well let's be frank - could probably have had any woman they wanted.
Pattie Boyd spent part of her childhood in Kenya, but even for the child of divorced parents, the raising of Pattie and her siblings seems to have been a slightly erratic undertaking, although she does seem to be close to her mother in later life. She left home, fell into modelling, met George Harrison during the filming of "A Hard Day's Night" and life from there took off as she and George found an instant attraction. Later, as married life with George turned sour, Eric Clapton told George one night "I have to tell you, man, that I’m in love with your wife". Later, married to Clapton, things again turned sour as he struggled with a drinking problem and became more and more distant.
At points in this book you can see glimpses of what it must have been like to live a life so publicly scrutinised and followed. You can get some sense of the way it must have been to go from a life of nothing to the privilege of money. You can see some of the dissatisfaction that can arise from fame, notoriety, pressure and the sheer excess of money. But to me, a lot of this seemed to be just that - glimpses. As a result of that, I was a little disappointed. This is a woman who was as close to that particular, exciting, period of music and social history and change as anybody could have been (without being one of the musicians herself), yet the story that she wrote seemed a little flat, disconnected and jumbled. Maybe Penny Junor, dual writing credit on the book, should have had a firmer hand in directing the narrative, but Boyd's own voice is a little muddy, toneless, perhaps extremely cautious? There is a lot of name dropping however, and I'd imagine that anybody who is a passionate fan of the Beatles will appreciate whatever glimpses they can get into the inner-world of the band. At the end of the book could I see why Pattie Boyd became that famous muse? I'm not sure.
A DEADLY TRADE - Michael Stanley
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.