Aug 25 2017 1:00pm

Review: A Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford

A Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford is the fourth Spike Sanguinetti novel, where a fatal explosion in the past and a series of brutal murders in the present question whether justice is being served for betrayals long hidden.

A Thousand Cuts, the fourth entry in Thomas Mogford’s Spike Sanguinetti series, offers readers a nuanced, multilayered narrative that shifts constantly while somehow retaining an overall balance between its elements. Coming in at a little over 350 pages, A Thousand Cuts is a satisfying read that offers something for fans of legal thrillers, history buffs, straight crime lovers, and mysteries. 

Back in 1940, a bomb went off in Gibraltar, killing two British soldiers who were patrolling the dockyards that night. After a short investigation, a Spaniard was executed for the crime. Although the man spent time with the wrong crowd, he claimed to be innocent until his execution.

Fast-forward to the present day when Spike Sanguinetti is thrown into the defense of Christopher Massetti, a quiet man who’s also a violent alcoholic. Massetti has been charged with harassing Dr. Eloise Capurro and her recently deceased husband. From the start, the case is not what it seems. Dr. Capurro is either confused or lying, and whatever brought Massetti to visit Capurro’s husband at the hospital before his death is a mystery. The case ends shockingly fast, and Massetti walks free. But days later, Capurro is dead, and the real trouble begins. What follows is a tense story of hidden agendas, family secrets, and murder that also serves as an exploration of Gibraltar’s culture and history.

The first thing that stands out about this novel is the balancing act Mogford performs from cover to cover. There is plenty of drama but also a lot of action. There are passages dominated by dialogue but also high-octane explosions, a fire, and physical violence. The characters live private lives full of home and work minutiae, but they also participate in public life and have to perform in it depending on their role and status. There are hearsay and rumor but also official documents and memos. There are views of the highest echelons of Gibraltarian society, but the author also shows the lives of regular folks. Lastly, this is a story of the present but also one with deep roots in a past that—much like the history of the place—is constantly brought up in the narrative. The result is a novel that manages to simultaneously occupy a plethora of spaces while never losing sight of the darkness that lies at the core of the plot, the thing that set everything in motion:

Spike turned over the last document of the file, registering the twist of disgust in his gut as he stared down at the thick sheaf of A3 papers. So that was how it was done, he thought. That was how you orchestrated an execution.

Mogford is a talented storyteller, and this is most obvious in the way he shifts gears within the pages of A Thousand Cuts. Spike has a family life and a business life as well as the complications and responsibilities that come with and from the Massetti case, and the author manages all of them without allowing one to overpower the others. Everything that’s going on in the story receives the same amount of attention.

In fact, this attention to detail could arguably be considered the novel’s only drawback; describing in luxurious detail the meals consumed by the characters is probably unnecessary and does nothing to move the narrative forward. However, because the places in which these characters meet and discuss their problems are often restaurants, even the gastronomical descriptions fit in nicely with the rest of the story. 

The last element that makes A Thousand Cuts an enjoyable read is the prose itself. From crisp dialogue and historical lessons to fast-paced action sequences and even moments of great violence, this is a novel that changes continuously. A great example comes early on when—after the case is apparently over and Spike is at a fancy event—Capurro plummets to her death during a devastating fire in Old Town: 

The speed with which she fell was extraordinary, as though a guy rope had yanked her down towards earth. The crowd fell silent, and somehow the noise of the flames seem to quieten too, so that they all heard the hollow, sickening crump as she struck the pavement.

A Thousand Cuts is engrossing and vividly told. When it comes to international crime, we usually hear about great novels from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, but this series from Gibraltar—which even uses the local language—is as good as anything coming from those places. Anyone looking for a tale of passionate agendas that ignore the passage of time should give this one a chance—just like anyone who’s looking to be entertained while they try to pull the truth from behind a very dark, fatal secret.


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Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. His reviews can be found in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Verbicide, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, HorrorTalk, The Brooklyn Rail, and other venues. Iglesias is PANK Magazine's book reviews editor, Entropy Magazine's film/television editor, and a columnist for LitReactor and Clash Media. His novels include GutmouthHungry Darkness, and Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter @Gabino_Iglesias

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