Bombproof by Michael Robotham
I freely confess I’m a sucker for elegant stories. Although simplistic up-and-at-’em thrillers can hit the spot, the better, more interesting variety has something more than a veneer of intelligence. Bombproof by Michael Robotham (Mulholland Books, 2013 — reprinted from earlier editions around the world) qualifies as intelligent in a major way. Let’s start with a definition of an accident. In general terms, it’s a type of unfortunate incident when those involved have little or no control over the outcome(s). Since the outcome(s) most usually involve some level of injury or damage to property, people consider accidents to be bad news. They do their best to avoid them. Yet accidents can come looking for people when they least expect them. Let’s hypothesise a wannabe musician, into rock-infused blues and hoping for the chance to make a living out of his love for music. He’s on his way to a gig. The youth who acts as his roadie has never been considered very bright. That’s why it comes as something of a surprise when he turns out to have been a particularly skillful safe cracker. Inconveniently, the genius thief dies, leaving our accident victim holding the diamond necklace hidden in his sound equipment. Naturally, the jury doesn’t believe the explanation of innocence. Indeed, everyone in the prison thinks our hero is just being modest about his skills as a thief.
So he knuckles down and serves his undeserved time. He hopes to resume his quest for rock stardom on his release. Except he finds accidents continue to lurk in waiting for him when he finally steps outside the gates of the jail. His sister has been kidnapped. Some serious villains want him to pull off a dangerous theft. With his sister in their hands, they have the leverage. It’s a shame he doesn’t have the skills. There’s just one hope. A retired police officer with a bee in his bonnet about a serious criminal thinks our “hero” may just be the best way of bringing this man down. This places our “hero” in the middle of a crisis and he has little to rely on except a high IQ and a complete absence of common sense.
The name of this ostensible hero is Sami Macbeth. To call him accident-prone would be an understatement but he’s relevant to the Garza family and an underworld figure called Tony Murphy. Lurking in a relatively minor role is ex-Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, a series character from some of Robotham’s previous novels. Even at the best of times, this would be a fraught set of relationships but, when a bomb goes off in the London Underground, the police and anti-terrorist units tend to believe Sami is involved. This further complicates matters.
Put this together and you have a very enjoyable novel about life as a criminal in London. It’s not intended as a flattering portrait albeit there’s a darkly humorous approach which, to some extent, leavens the somewhat malevolent behaviour of the villains. It’s also slightly less than flattering when it comes to describing the various policing agencies. In more conventional novels, the police are held up as the heroes. They virtuously defend life, liberty and the British way. Pauses to smile cynically. This is an edition aimed at the American market. Those reading this book should be warned of two features: the British English used is sometimes going to be a little obscure, and the incompetence and generally poor attitudes may be disconcerting to those who want to believe the British bobby is a model of professionalism. Every nation’s citizens like to delude themselves into believing they have the best/worst police on the planet. The reality is that all police forces act in a generally unaccountable way and individual officers are able to exploit the power inherent in their roles to hide their incompetence or to advance their personal status and wealth. In this case, the police jump to entirely the wrong conclusions about almost everything that happens. If all the coincidences in play were not so hilariously open to misinterpretation, it would all be tragically sad. As it is, the whole operates as a kind of slow-motion farce with our really dim hero at the calm centre of a tornado as it barrels across the London landscape. Everyone is doing their best under trying circumstances but, innocent and guilty alike, they all contrive to do the wrong thing until it all comes out right at the end (insofar as it can, of course). For whatever else you may be thinking about this gangland thriller, it’s really a Forest Gump style of fairy story in which innocence prevails amongst the carnage. Bombproof is a delight!
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.