What I'm Reading
A disturbing insight into illegal arms deals, journalism and people trafficking.
Here is something original: a novel of three threads set against a backdrop of the Arab Spring. The central character is a BBC radio journalist and this adds a contemporary aspect. The book is mainly set in Cairo but also covers London, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and eventually Rome. Very cosmopolitan.
The journalist has many quirks, attitudes and health issues, which serve to flesh him out. His female equivalent reminds me more of a stereotypical well-lived, flirty, confidant older woman, the type more suited to 1960s English spy drama. The lead characters in the other threads are identifiable enough.
The story is primarily about undercovering an illegal arms deal between a British company and north African countries. The London aspect is concerned with the Ministry of Defence and corporate dealings, while the third thread is solely about two boys trying to get to Europe via Italy. Their journey is the most powerful part in the book. The connection to the other parts is tenuous.
There are details of meetings and journalistic traits that add depth but often go on too long and make the story a little plodding in places. At other times there are harrowing depictions of the inhumane treatment and conditions of others, especially in the people smuggling sections. The deaths are few but stated in a prosaic way thus sapping any suspense.
The separate storylines are confusing at first as they seep into each other. As the book develops the stories become more distinct though. Other disjointed features are the constantly changing viewpoint, often in the same paragraph, which means that the story does not flow easily. Oh, and the number of characters who 'suck their teeth' and their 'jutting jaws' is very distracting.
The three threads come together at the end - just about - and leave the BBC reporter available for more jobs.
Published by John Murray Press, 2 May 2019
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.