I have done my share of deep and heavy reading this summer, so it was a great pleasure to read a crime fiction novel by an author new to me. Not that A Dark Redemption wasn't deep and sometimes heavy, but it is an ideal read for the end of summer: entertaining, compelling, yet addressing issues that stay with us as we return from the beach or vacation.
Stav Sherez, a British writer with two acclaimed novels already in print, opens the story with a flash to the past. Jack Carrigan, who is suffering from blinding headaches, thinks back to the summer after college graduation when he and his two best friends chose a trip to Uganda for their last fling before beginning jobs and adult life. With the typical innocence of youth in the early 1990s, they wanted to travel somewhere off the beaten track. On their way to Murchison Falls National Park, they hit a roadblock and the trip became a nightmare.
Two decades later Jack is a seasoned London police detective known for solving murders but he is disliked by most of his department. His current case involves the brutal rape and murder of a Ugandan student at a university in London. Working with his newly assigned detective Geneva Miller, who is also in hot water with Superintendent Branch, Jack's investigation revives all the horrific memories of that summer trip.
It took quite a few chapters to get comfortable with Sherez's style. He is strong on description but skimpy on the personal details of his characters. How and why Jack and Geneva became cops is only alluded to; the sparse information is just enough to let the reader know they both came into police work for painful reasons. The particulars of how Jack lost one of his best friends and why the tension between him and his remaining friend Ben increases as Jack works to solve the case, are revealed slowly as the investigation proceeds. However, I came to appreciate that this technique is highly effective in creating, for the reader, an excruciating anxiety for information. Also because this is the first in a series, I realized that he might be carefully parsing out information over several books.
Geneva Miller is a complex character whose intelligence and dogged pursuit along her own line of insights brings a modern feminist slant to the turmoil in Jack's office. Ultimately however it is Grace Okella, the victim, who takes this tale to an additional level of intrigue and terror. What does her carefully guarded research project have to do with her murder? Why is the Ugandan Embassy making Superintendent Branch's job nearly impossible? Grace also had a convoluted and sorrowful past, which entwines with Detective Inspector Jack Carrigan's horrific African experience. If not for Geneva's inspiring detective work, the answers would not be discovered.
Good crime fiction puts the reader smack into the confusion detectives have to endure in order to solve the crime, and this novel does so to an almost unbearable level. Sherez draws on the techniques of the masters. Jack Carrigan's disaffected tendency to go his own way echoes Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Geneva's prickly personality would fit into a Tana French mystery. His political interplay between Great Britain and Uganda follows in the tradition of John le Carre. Still, Sherez has a voice uniquely his own. By the end of the novel, the many mysteries of the characters, as well as some of the complexity behind Uganda's fight for independence as a nation, are revealed in a breathless finish.
A Dark Redemption is the first in a series featuring Detective Jack Carrigan. Good news, because I want to know more about him and look forward to sharing his troubles as he solves the next case. The second in the series, Eleven Days was released in the UK in May, 2013. It took a year for A Dark Redemption to be published in the USA. Hopefully, Americans will not have so long a wait for the next one.
This review is from the August 21, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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