We've all walked down the fictional mean streets of LA, NY, London, or these days even the capitals of Scandinavia, but Kyrgyzstan?
Most of us would stumble over the spelling of Kyrgyzstan, let alone find it on a map. But this is the beat that author Tom Callaghan has made his own with his second Akyl Borubaev thriller (the first being A Killing Winter).
A Spring Betrayal does what strong narratives often do – it brings alive an array of interesting characters and an unusual setting; in this case one that few of us have any experience of and, most probably, little desire to visit. However, few devotees of hard-bitten crime fiction will regret visiting this thriller.
Our protagonist is Inspector Borubaev of Bishkek, who we encounter as he's called in to investigate the discovery of the graves of seven murdered children on a remote hillside. In his bid to find out what has happened he hits a wall of Omerta, but once he links up with his one-time lover and all-round hardcore hitwoman, Saltanat Umarova, the fireworks really get going.
Borubaev is a troubled man who is haunted by the loss of his wife to cancer and the fact that if he puts a foot wrong, sinister government forces will destroy him.
While he makes a winning protagonist, the backdrop of child porn and torture cellars is bleak, and the criminal mastermind is rather underdeveloped. I also found the plot a little repetitive and lacking in forward momentum. Several times, for example, Borubaev and Umarova fall out over his hot-headedness and we learn more than once, that he is motivated by a need for justice for the dead, a slightly abstract and perhaps flat incentive.
But A Spring Betrayal is certainly a fresh thriller, with plenty of intrigue and enough firepower to start a war. And all this in what Tom Callaghan describes as a ‘beautiful country with friendly people’. Anyone contemplating a visit might want a little more reassurance after reading this.