Tom Callaghan- An Autumn Hunting

No sooner has Akyl Borubaev been reinstated as an Inspector in the Bishkek Murder Squad than he’s suspended for alleged serious crimes against the state.After an attempted assassination of a prominent minister goes spectacularly wrong, Akyl is a fugitive from his former colleagues and involved with one of Kyrgyzstan’s most dangerous criminals.

On the run, caught up in a illegal scheme that can only end badly, it’s time for Akyl to take a stand for everything he believes in…

So in a blink of an eye we have reached the final instalment of Tom Callaghan’s exceptional Kyrgyzstan quartet featuring Inspector Akyl Borubaev, that all began with the brilliant A Killing Winter , and took us through A Spring Betrayal, and A Summer Revenge

I don’t usually pay much attention to the use of epigraphs before the book proper, but in this case the quote from Chingiz Aitmatov, “The hardest thing for anyone is to be a human being every day” is entirely appropriate for the emotional wringer that Borubaev goes through during the course of this one. Obviously, being the last book of the cycle, the story is incredibly influenced by events of previous books, but rest assured you are kept firmly in the loop, as to who, what, where and how Borubaev has reached this precarious state, both professionally and emotionally. You never shake the sense that Borubaev is a pawn in a much larger game, not always voluntarily, and in a similar style to the sub genre of East German crime thrillers, there’s always the sinister shadow of other security services seeking to control and manipulate him. Borubaev is a superbly constructed character being the archetypal lone wolf, but being neither utterly corrupt nor totally moral. This book, perhaps even more so that the others, sees him playing a dangerous game, inveigling himself with a ruthless criminal with an illegal mission in Bangkok, and appearing to burn all his bridges in his homeland too. As usual, he navigates some very choppy waters indeed, with the requisite amount of physical fear and violence that Callaghan so precisely and excitingly punctuates his books with, and as the book spirals to one of the best closing chapters I have read for some time, this is real edge of the seat stuff throughout. The book is also littered with little flashes of dark, mordant humour and precisely placed barbs aimed at the State, complete with a knowing raise of the eyebrow.

As he uses his natural guile to stay one step ahead, Borubaev’s character is such that we are also allowed to witness moments of extreme emotion and natural sympathy, particularly in his intermittent dalliance with the femme fatale figure of tough hitwoman Saltanat, when a new development in their relationship is revealed- a development that brings his previous marriage back into sharp focus and analysis. Throughout the series his affair with the totally self contained, clinical Saltanat has been an interesting diversion in the unrelenting grimness, uncompromising violence and double crossing that gives the real punch to the writing, and I was curious to see what would happen with them, being such unlikely bedfellows. Callaghan does not disappoint, and instead of the usual schmaltz-laden interludes that ‘tough guys’ have, there is a real depth of emotion and extreme pathos to the hurdles in their relationship.

Once again, Callaghan uses the grey, bleak feel of Kyrgyzstan, both in terrain and in the socio-political sense, to full effect, focussing on the poverty, social deprivation and corruption rife in society. When the action shifts to Bangkok, these themes are revisited as Borubaev witnesses the highs and lows of life in this pulsing city, rich on the surface, but with an underbelly of poverty and extreme exploitation. There is a real depth and richness to Callaghan’s depiction of both locations, and how the problems of an individual state, are all too often repeated and visible in others, most notably the twin evils of drugs and sexual exploitation, and those who profit from them.

I thought this book was a sublime addition to the previous three, and a fitting conclusion to the series, leaving a little catch in the throat, but as a reader a genuine feel of having read a truly satisfying sequence of books. The locations, characterisation, social and political detail, and genuine page-turning excitement are a credit to Tom Callaghan’s writing, and I have enjoyed (and recommended widely) every book. An Autumn Haunting is no exception.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

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Tom Callaghan- A Killing Winter

tomIf, like me, you felt a sense of loss at the close of Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy (Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6) I may have found something to ease our collective troubled souls. A Killing Winter is a hard-hitting and not to be missed thriller from debut crime novelist Tom Callaghan, that transports the reader to the harsh and unforgiving landscape Kyrgyzstan…

When Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad is called to the brutal murder scene of a young woman, all the evidence points towards a sadistic serial killer on the hunt for more victims. But when the young woman’s father is revealed as a leading government minister, the pressure is on Borubaev to solve the case not only quickly but also quietly by any means possible. Until more bodies are found. Still in mourning after the recent death of his beloved wife, Chinara, Borubaev descends into Bishkek’s brutal underworld where violence is the only solution. And so begins a thriller that is by turns sordid, violent and yet powerfully emotive that I guarantee will keep you reading..and reading..and reading…

This book contains a number of stand-out features, most notably the author’s assured use of what to many is probably a relatively unknown location. Not only does he convey to the reader the inhospitable climate of this region, where the cold really seeps into your imagination when reading, but also the socio-economic make-up of this former Soviet enclave. It is populated by a cast of characters from both ends of the social spectrum, from the desperate day-to-day existence of the local prostitutes, to those inhabiting the higher echelons of power and the rewards this reaps. Somewhere in the middle stands our dogged detective Borubaev, a man of strong moral stature, manipulated by not only his police superior, but by the wider influence of the political sphere. As the story progresses, we gain valuable insight into the troubled history of this region, and the political machinations over the ownership of the country, and how Borubaev becomes firmly enmeshed in these warring factions.

Borubaev is an intriguing character, who pivots between an unerring toughness underscored by some emotive chinks in his armour, revealed by the references to his bereavement following the death of his wife. His emotional attachment to her memory is truly moving, and the way in which his memory of her fuels his actions, “I wanted to think of her as an unseen presence, spurring me on, watching from the sidelines”, where we feel his sense of loss consistently throughout, added to by an emotive revelation at the close of the book. Throughout the course of the investigation, he always fights for the victims, and despite the sheer physical harm that is meted out on him, his dedication to justice is embodied in his every action. I liked him very much indeed.

The plot itself proved incredibly satisfying with some nice red herrings, and reveals along the way, strengthened by the tough and unrelenting sordidness of both the language and the violence. This is not a book for the more squeamish reader, but the brutal nature of the plot worked extremely well overall. It’s rough, tough and blunt-speaking, but with the emotional counterpoint, as previously mentioned in Borubaev’s private life, works exceptionally well as a whole. A Killing Winter is a brilliant debut, and an early contender for one of my top reads of the year I feel.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)