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by Michael Robotham
Sphere, January 2012
576 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0751541109

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

References in this book to real people, like Paul Volcker and George Osborne, as well as to bankers and their bonuses, have the effect of reminding us that the author is dealing with real events. At the end of the war in Iraq, the US Federal Reserve pumped huge amounts of cash into the country with a view to its physical, political and economic reconstruction. It was hoped that this would promote social democracy in Iraq and lead to better relations with the West.

Unfortunately, Iraq provided a prime opportunity for money laundering, tax evasion and insider trading, causing much of the money billions of dollars - simply to disappear. The financial crisis that followed only added to the corruption. This is the basis of Robotham's strongly anti-corporate story, which is so well told that it is not difficult to believe that these events might well have been part of what happened. Of course, the financial details are complex and are not entirely clear even at the end of the novel; however, this doesn't really matter and even someone who has never heard of a hedge fund and who wouldn't know a call from a put option will be carried along by the gripping plot.

Luca Terracini, an American journalist, is in Iraq looking for a story and he believes one can be found in the numerous bank robberies that have been taking place in Baghdad. He meets Daniela Garner, also an American, who is working for the United Nations as an auditor of government spending on reconstruction and is finding discrepancies. They come across clues suggesting that the bank robberies and the missing money are connected and they decide to investigate.

In London, Vincent Ruiz, a recently retired policeman comes across a young girl, Holly Knight, who, along with her boy friend, Zac, is running a scam whereby they first drug and then rob men who try to help her. Ruiz is furious with himself when he finds he has been tricked and sets out to find her and her boyfriend. But he finds that his loss is apparently insignificant compared with something else that she stole - something so important that the owners will kill to get it back. His investigations bring him into contact with a wealthy woman whose banker husband is missing, a receiver of stolen goods and a private detective who has been hired to report on a suspected cheating husband. What he finds puzzling and alarming is that wherever his investigations take him, somebody else has been there first.

The novel switches constantly between Baghdad and London in quite brief chapters, each adding another piece to the story. Gradually the author makes clear that events in Baghdad and those in London are closely connected and as they come together, the pace of the writing picks up and one incident swiftly follows another - always convincingly - until a thrilling climax is reached. The only small criticism is that the story of the three terrorists appears rather to be tacked on to the main action and the book could have been reduced to more manageable proportions by its omission.

Also noteworthy is the attention Robotham pays to the rounding out of his characters. This is particularly true of Elizabeth North, pregnant and afraid for her missing husband, and Holly Knight, the damaged teenager unable to escape the effects of an abused childhood. Luca is always convincing as the reporter who finds that there is more to life than the big story and Ruiz perhaps even more so, a man who loses a daughter to marriage and finds another in the form of the vulnerable Holly. The minor characters too are presented in an incisive and realistic way. Felicity Stone, in charge of public relations at Mersey Fidelity, is self-important, arrogant and totally unfeeling in her reaction to Elizabeth's situation. As for the sadistic and vicious 'Courier', it is impossible to imagine anyone more frightening and the scene between him and Elizabeth is the stuff of nightmares.

The cover carries a comment that Robotham is "among the very best of British thriller writers." For an author who can produce writing of this quality the qualification of 'British' is wholly unnecessary.

Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, February 2012

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