Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Gibraltar Crime Fiction, A THOUSAND CUTS, Thomas Mogford

One of the heady pleasures of international crime fiction is exploring a culture from the inside -- including the lingering effects, often dark, of a region's history. So the newest crime novel from British author Thomas Mogford, A THOUSAND CUTS, fascinated me with its setting: Gibraltar, that rocky headland off Spain's southern coast. Not only is the "Rock" a sentry location for the Mediterranean: It provides the remains of a 14th-century Moorish castle and the 18th century Great Siege Tunnels, which were expanded in World War II.

 We readers realize from Chapter 1's placement in 1940 that a deadly wartime explosion at Gibraltar's shipyard could be more complicated than the investigators would realize. But we're swiftly back in the present time with lawyer Spike Sanguinetti (this is the fifth in his series), abruptly taking on a new client. Is the angry and booze-addicted old man just a typical confused remnant from Gibraltar's underclasses, former sailors and soldiers who collapsed in place and never left? Or is there a more pointed reason that this client has harassed a wealthy resident?

Spike Sanguinetti is a fascinating character, not least for his sympathy for his mostly unlikeable new client. He's tangled in the case in more directions than he at first realizes -- understandable that he's a bit distracted, since he and his financée are expecting a baby very soon, their adopted child is having "issues," and the close friends on Gibraltar who usually support him have a stake in seeing the client's past hushed up, and the series of crimes on the headland closed quickly.

From the tunnels to the action to the emotions, not to mention the wartime suspicions that emerge during Spike's efforts, this book is a classic page-turner, rich with atmosphere and urgent with action and risk. It's my first read in the series and I found gaps in understanding some of the terrain, so given the option, I'd explore the earlier books first, before reaching this one. But even as a cold read, stepping onto Gilbraltar in Mogford's series, it's a marvelous addition to the summer reading stack -- recommended, for sure! (Note that Mogford is getting great critical attention in Britain, where he made a CWA short list for the debut of this series.) Glad that Bloomsbury brought the book across the Atlantic, released this week in the US.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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