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Watching You by Michael Robotham

April 17, 2014 3 comments

Watching You by Michael Robotham

Watching You by Michael Robotham (Mulholland Books, 2014) is the seventh book to feature Professor Joseph O’Loughlin, a psychologist, with retired detective Vincent Ruiz following in his wake. I remind the readers of these reviews that this protagonist is relatively unusual in having Parkinson’s Disease. If you have not already done so, you should read the review for Bleed For Me (link at the bottom of the page) for a discussion of the significance of the author’s decision to give his protagonist a serious disease.

His client for this book is Marnella (Marnie) Logan who has not had the happiest of lives. After a difficult childhood, her first marriage was not a success apart from a daughter Zoe. Then she met Daniel, an Australian who’d made a (temporary) home for himself in London. When they married, it was one of the first times she did not feel bad about herself. A son, Elijah, appeared but then Daniel disappeared. Unfortunately, he leaves a big debt behind — he claimed he was in Gamblers Anonymous, but that didn’t turn him into a winner when he lapsed. The debt is owned by a man who won’t take no for an answer. This forces her into work as an escort. She rationalises this would not be so bad a fate. She will earn more than she had been drawing when she worked in a restaurant. And it will pay down what’s now considered her debt. The first real problem of interest to us surfaces when her third client proves suicidal. She talks him out of death as the easy way out, but the minder administers a beating for failing to collect payment. When the vicious minder turns up dead, she becomes a person of interest. So there she is, trapped by circumstance. Without her husband’s body, she can’t claim on the insurance. Perhaps she can find a friendly lawyer to deal with that problem. The only positive she has is Joe O’Loughlin as her shrink. He’s curious about her situation, particularly when someone breaks into his office to steal her file. This brings Vincent Ruiz into play and, against his better judgement, he gets more proactive when he sees she may have been attacked by the man imposing the debt on her.

Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham

There are times when an author comes up with a very clever plot and, thinking that’s all he needs do, neglects to ensure the delivery is a proper thriller. This book hits a real sweet spot in both departments. The mechanism driving the plot remains beautifully ambiguous until about two-thirds of the way through. Yet even when the doubt is removed, we’re still left with a nicely judged cliffhanger of an ending. This is a high quality thriller. The need to avoid spoilers makes writing this review difficult. Suffice it to say that, in psychological terms, we’re dealing with quite rare conditions. Indeed, many might dispute the condition (or disorder) actually exists. Yet the evidence swirling around this person does offer some support for its existence. Indeed, even when Vincent Ruiz talks on the telephone with the person who may be behind all these incidents, the questions remain unresolved. There are, of course, indications of which way the coin will fall — it must be heads or tails, right? Binary rules, OK! But it’s only later as Joe begins to get a clearer picture of what’s actually going on that we come to understand the motivation of the key player(s). In retrospect, this was a tragedy long in the making as a simple love and desire to protect grew into something rather more powerful and potentially dangerous. There are one or two reference to Othello in the text and, in one sense, there’s a certain parallel with Iago’s desire for revenge whenever he considers himself provoked. Of course, not all parallels are exact and, this this case, it’s not at all clear who the Iago might be nor how a role that should inspire trust could become something darker.

Put all this together and Watching You turns out to be a top-class thriller with not only a clever plot, but also a darker twist that comes rather unexpectedly at the end. Only with that revelation does everything finally fall into place and, no matter how misplaced, the motive becomes clear. So we tick all the relevant boxes for crisp prose, fast pacing, beautifully rounded characterisations and a very satisfying conclusion. Michael Robotham plays a long game in this book, reserving the final question to the last page and leaving matters firmly in the hands of our experienced Professor O’Loughlin, the ultimately safe pair of hands.

For reviews of other books by Michael Robotham, see:
Bleed For Me
Bombproof.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Bombproof by Michael Robotham

October 4, 2013 1 comment

Bombproof

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.

Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham

 

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!

 

For reviews of other books by Michael Robotham, see:
Bleed For Me
Watching You.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

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