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Monday 8 December 2014

‘White Crocodile’ K. T. Medina

 Published by Faber & Faber,
7 August 2014.
ISBN: 978-0571310753

Mine-clearance expert Tess Hardy has come to Cambodia to investigate her ex-husband’s death. She’s barely arrived when a second experienced mine-clearer is killed. Meanwhile in Manchester, DI Andy Wessex has found the body of a half-Asian girl with a stolen passport

This debut crime novel uses the author’s own experience to bring current-day Cambodia vividly to life: the scars left by the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam war in this beautiful countryside, the efforts of aid organisations against a constant flood of mine victims, the maimed people, the poverty that leads to sex tourism and the social stigma against the young girls involved. Against this unusual and interesting background are well drawn characters: the organisation’s worried boss, MacSween, the uptight second-in-command Jakkleson, the self-harming Alex, and, at home in Manchester, committed DI Wessex. Tess herself, the narration’s main focus, is a likeable heroine still scarred by her past relationship with Luke, who beat her up, although I felt her actions were at times implausibly risk-taking. We’re also taken into the lives of the Khmer women who are targeted by the ‘White Crocodile’, the Khmer symbol of death, and this was sympathetically done. The disparate elements of the story are brought together in an exciting and well-plotted finish.

The novel was fast-moving, and the switches between Cambodia and Manchester added tension. Later in the book we were given snatches of a child’s horrific English upbringing and I was uneasy about this – while it explained the perpetrator’s motivation, I felt this placing and length made the child more sympathetic than the female victims of that child grown up. I was also concerned by the negative view of aid workers – the novel must, of course, deal with the crooked, but it would have been good to also showcase an example of the many selfless people who go abroad to help.

A very readable crime novel in an ususual setting.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

K T Medina joined the Territorial Army, where she spent five years, firstly as an officer trainee, then as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers. As Head of Land Based Weapon Systems, at Jane's Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information, she visited Cambodia, working with mine clearance charities in Battambang to provide them with information that would help mine clearers deal with complex mines and IEDs more safely in the field. She was also privileged to meet Khmers, both adults and children, who had been injured by land mines and to visit many of the locations that appear in White Crocodile.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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