Thomas Mogford- A Thousand Cuts

When a routine court case takes a sinister turn, defence lawyer Spike Sanguinetti starts asking dangerous questions that nobody seems to want answered. Soon, it’s not just the truth that’s at stake: it is everything and everyone that Spike holds precious. As the Gibraltarian sun beats relentlessly down, crimes of the past and present collide, relationships are tested and long-buried secrets exposed. Who can Spike trust? And where do his own loyalties lie?

There are only a handful of authors that I have followed consistently throughout the course of their writing careers, and particularly following established series. As a reader there is always an equal feeling of excitement and dread when you resume reading a series- excited that there is indeed a new book, but an underlying fear that this one won’t be as good as the ones preceding it. Having reviewed the four previous books featuring charismatic Gibraltar based lawyer, Spike Sanguinetti, it was with an angel and a devil on my shoulder that I started reading A Thousand Cuts…

Opening with a tense incident of military sabotage in 1940’s Gibraltar, I knew instantly that my knowledge of Gibraltar’s chequered history would be pleasantly expanded again. When I originally embarked on this series there were only three things I confidently knew about Gibraltar:

There’s a rock

There are apes.

Spain is a trifle miffed that it’s under British jurisdiction.

What I have consistently loved about this series, is how much Mogford has opened up the turbulent history of this area piece by piece so that every book exposes a different slice of its unique history defined by location and politics. He always accomplishes this in a fluid and non-lecturing style, firmly adhering to the universal truth that past history cannot be denied as absolutely defining and reverberating in our current times. By using an incident set further back in history as the lynch-pin, Mogford is given a great opportunity to people this book with an older array of characters, who find themselves in the cross-hairs of a killer seeking revenge for sins of the past. This he accomplishes with aplomb, weaving together the past and the present, rich with interesting historical detail, and providing an equally fascinating study of the very human instinct of avenging wrongful deeds, however long that takes to achieve. Consequently, one simple act of wartime sabotage leads to murder, false accusations and devastating retribution, and you will find your sympathy for one character in particular toyed with consistently throughout.

As to Spike Sanguinetti himself, the central lead of the series, who is still torn between his two lawyerly hats- corporate and criminal- his story has moved on apace. The normal rescinder applies that joining the series at this later point is not a problem for the reader, as Spike’s former adventures are neatly inserted. This particular story gives Spike the opportunity to don his preferred criminal lawyer guise, and to delve deeper into the circumstances of a perplexing series of murders and to navigate the shadowy world of military intelligence and cover-ups. He is still proving himself a tad ham-fisted in the field of personal relationships, with his partner and police detective, Jessica, on the cusp of maternity leave, and their relationship experiencing a few troubled waters due to this investigation. I liked the way that Mogford homed in on Jessica’s own insecurity at having to give up her career and her determination to keep working until the critical point, and will be interested to see how much motherhood affects her in terms of her staunch loyalty to her career. Also, this book puts Spike sharply at odds with former friends and allies, and with the whiff of illegal practices in his own place of work, Mogford sets these teasers up nicely for the next book. As usual I loved the interactions between Spike and Rufus, his curmudgeonly father, and the way that Rufus is investing emotionally in the care of Spike and Jessica’s adopted son Charlie, which has added another lively dynamic to Spike’s personal life.

So all my initial fears were quickly assuaged, once again fully embracing Mogford’s talent for good storytelling underscored by relevant and interesting historical period detail of this unique location. Thoroughly enjoyed A Thousand Cuts and suitably intrigued as to what the next instalment will reveal in this superlative international crime series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

viral

Okay, so there’s been a wee bit of a furore regarding the opening line of this book, and Fitzgerald’s use of a c-word- no, not that one- but one which seems to have caused a bit of consternation. Personally speaking there are far worse c-words- Cameron, chlamydia, cystitis- which are all singularly unpleasant in their own way, so I was completely undeterred by her shock opener. It’s called freedom of expression.  Also despite my general loathing/apathy to the current trend of domestic noir thrillers, I suppose in a way that this book does draw on certain motifs from this genre, but thanks to the acerbic and beautifully twisted nature of Fitzgerald’s writing Viral felt like a real trip to the dark side of domestic relationships…

The story centres on the implosion of a family due to an event filled trip to Magaluf undertaken by British teenager Leah and her adopted Korean sister Su, who are like chalk and cheese in terms of character and behaviour. Rebellious Leah is wildly impulsive, set against the swottish and demure Su, but one ill-fated night in Magaluf and the pernicious world of social media, sees the corruption of goody two shoes Su, and the far-reaching effect of her actions causing a meltdown in her family. To escape the fallout of that fateful night, Su embarks on a voyage of discovery about herself and her roots in Korea, whilst causing her adoptive mother, high court judge Ruth, to embark on her own journey of retribution against those responsible for Su’s trials and tribulations.

Although, I confess I wasn’t entirely convinced by the arc of the story, and the way the plot played out, what I did enjoy was the way that Fitzgerald really got beneath the skin of her main protagonists, and exposed with such precision their failings. This detached style of holding her characters up to scrutiny and judgement is a recurring theme in her books, and hence why I like reading them so much. When put under the microscope, her characters demonstrate the worst aspects of human nature, despite our initial impressions of them, and are neither all good, or all bad. I also like the way that Fitzgerald dispels our perceptions of her characters as the book progresses, so we are forced to reassess our opinions of them and the way they behave. The dominant character of Ruth in particular takes on the mantle of an avenging angel, and whilst her actions could be applauded as demonstrating a mother’s need to protect her child, they do come at some cost to herself and her daughters, on her one-woman mission for justice. Equally, Leah’s initial selfishness and abhorrent behaviour is roundly turned in on itself, and the somewhat nauseating goodness of Su begins to deteriorate into out of character solipsism as the book progresses, after her awful experience in Spain, and the interesting exploration of her true self. I also enjoyed the way that Fitzgerald used the three main locations- Britain, Spain and Korea- as a springboard for the changes in character her protagonists undergo, and showing how even the relative safety and security of home can be deceptive in the aftermath of a crisis. Of course, reflecting the title the book has much to say on the pervasive nature and reach of social media, and it’s destructive effects after one young girl’s coercion into a moment of madness that cannot be easily escaped. Any salacious or harmful information has the potential to be put up for public consumption, but what if it happened to you? Unsettling indeed.

Spiky, uncompromising and engaging. Domestic noir that packs a proper punch.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)