Saturday, 4 June 2016

A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan

This is the second instalment of Tom Callaghan’s Inspector Akyl Borubaev series, and follows directly on from the author’s debut, A Killing Winter. I thoroughly enjoyed that novel and gave it a 5-star review and so was looking forward to reading A Spring Betrayal

Luckily this did not disappoint. In A Killing Winter, our protagonist, a detective of the Bishkek Murder Squad (Bishkek being the capital of Kyrgyzstan) had to grapple with the vicious slaying of a government minister’s daughter. It was a police procedural with a raw heart, a brutality imbuing the novel that reflected the impoverishment of that Central Asian republic. A Spring Winter follows very much in the same path, only now after the events of the previous novel, Akyl Borubaev has been exiled to the far corner of Kyrgyzstan. This time he unearths the bodies of several children, abused, tortured, and buried in the frozen steppes. The corpses all bear wristbands identifying them as orphans in the care of Kyrgyzstan’s creakingly decrepit state orphanages, and having himself grown up in one, this affects him deeply.

I always try to stay clear of divulging too many spoilers in my reviews, so I will simply say that the plot of A Spring Betrayal doesn’t pull any punches. It covers child trafficking, child rape and pornography, snuff movies, and the corruption that makes all this possible. Real monsters populate the pages of this novel and it’s not suitable reading for the feint hearted or those looking for a cosy mystery in the vein of Miss Marple or Poirot. But then it doesn’t pretend to be and if like me you like your crime fiction gritty, nourish, and with an iron-lined stomach, then this could well be the book for you.

If I have cone criticism of A Spring Betrayal, it’s the same one that I levelled at A Killing Winter, and that’s that the author seems to have a thing for the femme fatale. In his previous novel that was Saltanat Umarova, the mysterious beauty from Uzbek intelligence. She appears in the second novel but her character is a little more fleshed out here. But now the author adds a second femme fatale, Albina Kurmanalieva, former Uzbek security and now freelance assassin and torturer. In A Spring Betrayal Albina is something from a James Bond movie, glamorous and beautiful yet deadly. It’s not that I object necessarily to such characters, just that I find them a little clichéd. One day I’ll read a book where all the assassins and spies are kind of average in the looks department, or heaven forbid, a little dowdy.

But as with Callaghan’s debut A Killing Winter, none of this ruined the book for me, and I enjoyed A Spring betrayal immensely. It has a real sense of place about it and I felt immersed in the post-Soviet poverty of Callaghan’s Kyrgyzstan which he vividly brings to life.

4 out of 5 stars

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