Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford is the first book in a series starring tax attorney and amateur detective Spike Sanguinetti (available August 7, 2012).
It’s a humid summer night in Gibraltar when lawyer Spike Sanguinetti finds Solomon Hassan, an old school friend, waiting on his doorstep. Accused of murdering a Spanish girl in Tangier, Solomon swears his innocence. He has managed to skip across the straits, but the Moroccan authorities demand his return.
Spike travels to Tangier in the hope of delaying the extradition. Solomon’s boss, Nadeer—founder of a renewable-energy company called Dunetech that is on the verge of financing an enormous solar-powered site in the Sahara—suggests that if Spike can delay Solomon’s trial until after the deal is signed, he will persuade the governor of Tangier to bury the extradition demand. Complicating this offer, Spike encounters a Bedouin girl who insists that Dunetech is engaged in a nefarious scheme linked to the disappearance of her father. As Spike uncovers the truth, he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a world of secrets, corruption, and murderous lies.
First I’d like to give you advice: Don’t start reading this book late at night. I did and I had to pay the price; that is stay awake until early morning when I finally finished it.
I guess that I was surprised this happened to me with a book that’s not a fast-paced thriller, full of twists and turns, car-chases, explosions, and other cinematic elements. It has all the other qualities that make a crime novel stand out: mystery, exciting settings, and a hero who at first doesn’t seem to want to be one.
Spike considers The Rock, as Gibraltar is widely known, as one of the best, if not the best, place in the world. Everything looks simple there. Everybody seems to know everybody else, the way of life is kind of serene but mostly cosmopolitan, and nothing interesting, or rather exciting I should say—apart from the world of business—seems to happen.
He knows his little abode at the edge of the sea inside out and he really loves the Old Town and its history:
Ahead rose the Moorish Castle, dominated by the Tower of Homage, built by the Moors when they’d conquered Gibraltar in AD 711. They’d held it until the reconquest, seven centuries later, and their leader’s name Jebel Tariq—Mountain of Tariq—has stuck, morphing over time to Gibraltar. Beneath the stone battlements ran dark, sweaty stains where the Moors had poured boiling pitch onto besieged Spaniards. Spike stared up at them, marveling as ever at their longevity, as he came into Upper Castle Gully. Then he saw Jessica Navarro standing by her Royal Gibraltar Police van.
Jessica is one of his closest friends, along with his partner at the law firm, Peter Galliano, a lover of the good life. There seems to be some attraction between Spike and Jessica, but it never morphs into words. It’s as if they know that the relationship they have now is the extent of what there’s ever going to be between them.
One of the most unusual things in this novel is that cops and lawyers seem to get along very well. They talk a lot, they drink beers together, and they help each other out.
For instance when Spike advises his old friend and now client, Solomon Hassan, to surrender to the police in Gibraltar, he knows that he’s going to be in good hands. Actually, the only one who verbally abuses Solomon is Spike himself in order to make certain that he is innocent.
Even when he travels to Tangier to investigate the crime in question, Spike is still in close contact with the police through his colleague, Galliano, who keeps him up to date.
Of course Spike doesn’t expect the same kind of cooperation from the Moroccan authorities. If he wants something done he has to do it himself. And thus starts the adventure, an adventure that brings the cynic in him to life, especially as he wanders the streets of the mythical city: “He tried a different route down, passing an American woman of a certain age arm in arm with a handsome Moroccan youth. The irresistible pheromones of the green card.”
Spike finds Tangier attractive and kind of repulsive at the same time. As he walks the streets, talks to the people, pays bribes, and moves from place to place, he feels good there, but at the same time he knows that it’s a place he could never live. It’s not the night life that captures his imagination, it’s not the bazaars or even the women (at first); it’s the beach:
The sand felt warm between Spike’s toes. Seeing a discarded syringe ahead, he dropped his espadrilles to the ground and kicked them back on. The breadth of the beach had been a surprise, more than half a kilometer wide, continuing all along the inlet of the bay, port to the left, hills to the right, bright wasps’-nest city rising behind.
Waves lapped at Spike’s feet, propelled by their cross-mix of currents. A shelf of sand rose at the tidemark: if someone had wanted to sit by the sea they could lean on the sandbank and be out of sight of anyone walking behind. Washed up against it was a melee of debris: punctured lilo, toothbrush, a plastic doll with a melted face.
Shadow of the Rock is a character-driven novel. Spike may be in the epicenter of things, but a colorful cast of secondary characters enrich the story: headstrong and dismissive inspector Eldrassi; Marouane, the bar owner who sure likes his bribes; Jean-Baptiste, Spike’s hotel neighbor who’s willing to offer a helping hand; some goons and a rich industrialist; Zahra, the girl who knows too much and has her own agenda; and his receptionist at the hotel, an avid reader who answers almost every question with a quote.
As far as debuts go this couldn’t have been any better. The author has taken full advantage of his material to create an engrossing tale that captures the reader’s heart. I, for one, look forward to the new adventures of Mr. Spike Sanguinetti.
Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.