SIGN OF THE CROSS - Thomas Mogford
SIGN OF THE CROSS is the second Spike Sanguinetti novel, in a series that really does need to be read in order. Not that it's any trial to have to do so, as this is shaping up to be a standout.
It's not just the brutality of the murder, there's a fundamental sombreness about these books which works. The first book, THE SHADOW OF THE ROCK, was also set partly outside Gibraltar in Morocco, yet somehow that idea of a Shadow being cast carries through both stories. Sanguinetti is troubled in this book. By the brutal death of a loved aunt and uncle, the increasing frailty of his father, life itself. That's not to say he's morbid or tedious, it's a reflective man who struggles with the relationships around him - the lost and the failing.
A strong character study, with a clever and engaging plot, SIGN OF THE CROSS also has a very strong sense of place. Malta is as complex a society and history as was Morocco and Gibraltar in the first book. The books aren't travel guides, or postcards from, but they weave the place and the history into the story. The sense of culture and location informing the actions of the people now as it obviously has done for generations. Pulling the multi-generations of Sanguinetti's family into the action echoes those aspects beautifully.
Neither of these books are fast thriller styled crime fiction. They are enthralling, involving, intriguing studies of places and peoples, mistakes, history and relationships. And so far, two books down, very worth reading.
Just as a degree of calm returns to Spike Sanguinetti's life in Gibraltar, he receives the shocking news that his Maltese uncle and aunt are dead after a domestic dispute escalated into a blood-soaked murder-suicide.
Accompanied by his aging father, Spike crosses the Mediterranean to Malta for the funerals. It falls to Spike, a lawyer, to act as executor of the wills. The more he looks into his relatives' deaths, however, the more he is faced by a troubling question: what could have prompted a mild-mannered art historian to stab his wife to death, then turn the knife upon himself?
After reuniting with an ex-girlfriend, Zahra, now working in Malta as a translator, Spike embarks on a dangerous trail that leads all the way from the island's squalid immigrant tent camps to the ornate palazzos of the legendary Knights of St John. In Malta, the oldest Christian nation in the world, self-interest can masquerade as charity, and what first appears to be worthless can prove valuable beyond price.