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Des Morley

Hale £17.99


Reviewed by Gwen Moffat

This is a thriller by a South African and set in Durban. The plot is simple, involving the kidnapping to order of young girls and children to stock Far Eastern brothels run by the triads. Payment is in heroin and the children are referred to as "parcels". 'On each parcel of twelve, I expect to make a million dollars' says the supplier, a ruthless villain who cuts his losses and ensures the success of his shipments by liquidating incompetent subordinates. There are two mysteries: his identity and that of his antagonist: a female undercover agent. The reader is scarcely interested, he has probably guessed the identity of both anyway; what keeps him reading is the action: the seesaw campaign waged against the background of an exotic city with its sophisticated downtown, suburbia, slums and sluggish rivers. And because this is Africa you are expecting crocodiles rather than concrete overcoats - but the human predators are worse than crocodiles.

Characterisation is plausible, and characters abound. Although basically the theme is good versus evil (the goodies aiming to save the latest batch of children from being shipped to Thailand) the action is complicated by there being several factions on each side. Running parallel with the special operatives who are bound by the law, are two civilian investigators, one of who is a hard security man who is tender towards his lover but who possesses disturbing knowledge of Gestapo methods of extracting information from villains: a good guy with no hesitation about killing in a righteous cause. One loses count of the murders, but that's immaterial; until the showdown it's mostly minions.

A fast-moving novel dodging from scene to scene, from criminals and their retinues to factions of the opposition and the victims. The editing is not always precise ('He know lives in Durban' on the back flap) but one may ignore mistakes and solecisms in a story which at the outset threatens to become a travelogue (Florence, Pretoria, Thailand) but then takes off into a fine roller-coaster of villainy, and a motley collection of knights: black, white and coloured who, for all their suspect methods, and maybe because of this, engage your synpathy.