Walters, Michael - 'The Outcast'
Set in Mongolia, the "edge of the world", THE OUTCAST is the third book to feature Nergui, Doripalam, Tunjin and colleagues from the serious crime squad and, in Nergui's case, the ministry of security. Ghengis Khan is the most famous Mongolian - indeed, he is probably the only thing most people know about the country - and THE OUTCAST deals with this heritage. Solongo, Doripalam's ambitious wife, is head curator of the Ulaan Bataar museum which is putting on a huge exhibition in honour of the country's founder. She's part-horrified, part-annoyed when the body of a man is found wrapped up inside a carpet which has been delivered to the museum in one of the many trucks that contain artefacts for the exhibition.
Yet this crime is but one of several confusing simultaneous events. Our overweight friend Tunjin becomes embroiled in a demonstration, shooting and killing a potential suicide bomber. He collapses and is taken to hospital, but before he has time to regain consciousness, Nergui takes over Doripalam's investigation into what happened, reigniting tensions in the uneasy friendship between the two men. In another part of the city, a young student called Gundalai is helping to organise a political rally. The leader of the faction, Odbayer, is the son of a high-ranking official himself, yet this does not lessen his fervour in pushing for Mongolian independence - whether shaking off the final chains of Soviet rule, or heading off the increasing influence of China. It isn't long before yet more violence erupts, and Gundalai witnesses Odbayer being dragged away by uniformed men - who turn out to be masquerading as police officers.
Set against these confusing events are regular flashbacks to 20 years ago, in which we learn how a spy on an undefined mission made contact within Mongolia in order to fulfil an operation. We don't learn the details, but we do know that things went badly wrong for "Sam", the presumed titular outcast whose memories the reader is witnessing. Somehow, these events are connected to, and presumably explain, the current violence.
THE OUTCAST is a book of two parts. In the first, we observe previously established characters as they deal with the various crimes and events going on in the city, trying to understand them and, particularly in Tunjin's case, avoid censure or worse. Sarangarel, the judge at the heart of events in the previous book, THE ADVERSARY and possible romantic interest for Nergui, becomes involved and she, as well as Solongo, end up in some danger as it becomes clear how much is at stake and the level of seniority of those involved.
The second part of the book is a thriller, as the action shifts to far away across the plains to the presumed birthplace of Genghis Khan. During much excitement and several set pieces, Nergui and Tunjin come to understand how the events of 20 years ago, in which they were involved, are driving the threats they are currently facing. Together with Doripalam and the bright young policeman Batzorig - an expert at cutting through red-tape - they rush into various dangers to try to apprehend the culprits before disasters strike.
Although the author piles on the pace and the pressure, expertly juggling the disparate threads of the plots, I was sorry that the character development at the start of the book became somewhat stalled in favour of the action-packed climaxes. Although THE OUTCAST is an exhilarating read, I hope that the next book in the series will focus more on the core characters and how their interactions develop, at home and at work.
Maxine Clarke, England