Mogford, Thomas - 'Shadow of the Rock'
Spike Sanguinetti is the unusual name of the protagonist in this speed-read thriller set in Gibraltar and Tangier. Spike's real name is Somerset (we learn that his deceased mother was fond of "the English short story") but has elected for a sharper handle, and acts accordingly. He's a lawyer living on the "rock", as the promontory of Gibraltar is generally called; the action of the book starts right off when Solomon, a fugitive from justice, seeks Spike's help.
Solomon knows Spike from their mutual schooldays: Spike was not a particular friend of the younger man but protected him from bullies a couple of times. Now, Solomon is in a much tighter corner than that, as he's been accused by the police in Tangier of killing a young woman on the beach. He managed to escape across the strait, as he is terrified of being imprisoned in Tangier, not a place which has a fair criminal justice system, especially if the accused is of the Jewish race, we are told.
Spike persuades Solomon to hand himself over to the Gibraltar authorities to prepare a legal case against extradition, while he himself goes to Tangier to find out who really committed the crime. Once he arrives, the pace is frantic, as he finds new clues; meets people whom he charms, bribes or threatens to find out more; encounters a couple of irresistibly "sexy" women; digs into Solomon's employer's activities in bidding for a contract to supply renewable energy to the region; and gets into terrible scrapes and danger on half-a-dozen occasions. And of course, he has a caring side, shown particularly by his devotion to his ageing father.
THE SHADOW OF THE ROCK is a light yet well-written thriller that will please those who like adventure-type books in exotic locations. The first third or so is set in Gibraltar and the second part in Tangier; in both cases the reader is inundated with historical, geographical and cultural information somewhat to excess (for example the significance of individual street names in Gibraltar is explained). As well as the school-lesson element of the book, Spike is one of those heroes who is well-connected everywhere (most usefully with an underdeveloped character who is a policewoman in Gibraltar), with convenient friends, and who has a knack for constantly getting into deeply sticky, potentially lethal situations but emerging virtually unscathed each time. He has great luck, also - a woman he tries to interview runs away, but a day later he notices her doing a drug deal in the bar he happens to be in. If this kind of blasť insouciance is your cup of tea, I'm sure you'll enjoy this book, even though I found the characters either two-dimensional or stereotypical (especially the Moroccans and the businessmen). Hard-core crime fiction readers may find it rather formulaic despite the unusual locations and the twist in the tail is no surprise.
Maxine Clarke, England
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