A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H Cook
|A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H Cook|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A thriller with a conscience conjoins a murder mystery with an examination of NGOs and others meaning to improve Africa, irrespective of the local Africans' wishes. Some interesting points raised with a Graham Green/John Le Carre feel but not one of Mr Cook's best.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: November 2014|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
A man that risk management consultant Ray Campbell knew a lifetime ago is found dead on the streets of New York. It's not just the fact that Ray knew him that's intriguing, it's where Ray knew him from: the African country of Lubanda where Ray once worked for an NGO. This death reminds him of another that happened out in Africa: that of a native Lubandan named Martine Aubert whom Ray loved and still loves. There must be a connection and Ray will investigate till he finds it, no matter what he finds or what he remembers along the way.
I jumped at the chance of reviewing this novel as I adored Thomas' last book, also a murder mystery, Sandrine. As with Sandrine, the narrative here is split between two eras. In the here and now we're with Ray in America and his return to the fictitious Lubanda as well as back in the day with the younger Ray, witnessing the friendship develop between him and Martine.
As Ray looks back at his past, he's not totally convinced that his relief work role did as much good as he hoped it would. Through the things Ray's forced to do to remain on side with the prevailing Lubandan government and the dictator who rules it Thomas poses some interesting questions about such a balancing act. The place and dictator may be fictitious but there are echoes of many African states past and present in the policies and actions, our recognition causing the fictitious to feel more real.
Martine is indeed particularly interesting. She's native Lubandan but white, causing the powers that be somewhat of a dilemma. Through Martine Ray learns about the real Africa and she becomes the lens through which he views his actions. In fact we find that we're learning from her in the same way. She has a natural simplicity in both lifestyle and outlook that vies with our complicated lives as we envy her this, although not the hatred that she unwittingly stirs up.
The modern day murder mystery is nicely meshed with the past life story, each creating points of curiosity and impetus for the other. It also has a very Graham Greene/John le Carre (in his Constant Gardener era) flavour, generating a ponderous languor that at times leaves us time to digest and extrapolate the events. Unfortunately at other times this languor slowed things down to the extent that, for me, got in the way of the story. I was so fascinated by Martine's life and Ray's current investigation of the murder that I wanted to rush Ray through the moments of self-analysis and night-time-of-the-soul inner monologues which seem circular (as inner monologues often are) in order to get back to the main threads again.
If you enjoy ponderous moments of philosophy intertwined with the narrative or are easily able to fast forward through them without guilt, this is a novel for you. If, on the other hand, you don't feel you're in either category, borrow a copy of the novel anyway; the author makes us look at Africa countries and the help that comes from abroad in a light that you may well find refreshing. Either way, it may be a patchy story but taken as a whole, it's something that demands attention and comparison with the real world.
(Thank you, Head of Zeus, for providing us with a copy for review.)
You can read more book reviews or buy A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H Cook at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H Cook at Amazon.com.
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