Deadly Diamonds by John F Dobbyn
Deadly Diamonds by John F Dobbyn (Oceanview Publishing, 2013) is the fourth novel to feature Michael Knight and Lex Devlin. They are Boston attorneys who have a flair for getting themselves into trouble and then having to talk or, if all else has failed, fight their way out of it. There are both Irish and Italian mob connections running through the book with the interested parties getting into bed with the IRA to make millions out of the trade in blood diamonds. Thematically, this is an incendiary subject with the illicit trade being used by organised crime, warlords and terrorists to move money around the world to buy weapons, recruit mercenaries, and so on. Since the diamonds are mined in appalling conditions, every aspect of the “business” is drenched in blood and, in theory, all civilised countries have banned the trade. In fact, the certification procedure has failed to stem the flow of the diamonds into the legitimate trade. There’s too much profit to be made by everyone in the illegal supply chain.
Over the decades, there’s been a small but steady number of “issue” books, i.e. they focus on a social or political issue of importance and discuss it in a fictional context. The authors’ purpose is to dramatise the issue and promote discussion. Hence, we’ve seen books focus on human trafficking, child soldiers, gender violence as in the abnormally high number of women murdered in part of Mexico, and so on. This use of fiction is perfectly acceptable and, at times, socially useful. The potential problem, however, is that the focus on the issue(s) overwhelms the pace and drama of the plot, making the book just another soap box or equivalent of one of these rather empty drama-documentaries made for television. Getting the balance right between fictional context and the exploration of the issue is a challenge for the best of authors. Lesser writers usually make a mess of it.
When we set off, you would never know this was going to turn into an issue book. It’s a free-wheeling legal thriller in which the two attorneys find themselves caught up in a situation which could cause a war to break out between the two Boston mobs. The plot is unwinding happily as the son of the Irish mob leader finds the body of a senior Italian soldier, while a local Irish priest is unexpectedly accused of abusing a young boy in his care. Just as things are starting to get interesting, the book stops dead in its tracks and we have a second book start. This new story is set in Sierra Leone with some appropriately tough descriptions of children drafted into local armies and slaves digging in pits to recover the diamonds. This is an extraordinarily crude mechanism and it marks the end of interest. The author is, of course, earnest and well-intentioned. By this digression, he intends to expose what he deems the unacceptable face of the diamond trade. Unfortunately, he trivialises everything by the use of stereotype characters in stock situations.
This young man from the back of beyond, escapes captivity carrying a small fortune in uncut diamonds (it’s actually only worth about $1.25 million which is, by modern Western standards, a fairly trivial amount but a fortune in Sierra Leone). By a convenient coincidence, he’s rescued by a man who knows a man with the right connections to get our man to Ireland where there’s another man who knows a man, and so on. This escapee from the pits turns out to be a sophisticated man of the world who can influence hotel staff with the Irish lilt in his African accent, charm the IRA into supplying him with hitman support, bully the American gangster, and so on. Yes, he’s the ultimate plot contrivance until the younger legal hero appears on the scene to rescue him when he’s in need. Oh yes, the two books must, of necessity, merge so they can become a single story between the boards of a hardback edition.
So what does that leave? Well, the good men do plenty. They kill the bad men, exonerate the good men, and bring peace to Sierra Leone. Not a bad day’s work, all things considered. I could try to tell you that, in the midst of this mess, there’s the potential for a powerful book which sees a young attorney use his skills to manipulate and obfuscate to the maximum advantage in diverting harm from those most at risk. But somehow it all gets lost in a fantastical adventure in which everything is solved with the flick of the author’s pen. In other words, it’s a train wreck. Deadly Diamonds is deadly dull, terminally absurd, and to be avoided.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.