A deadly explosion in Gibraltar’s dry dockyard was never going to divert attention from the Battle of Britain and the few defending the many in their balletic aerial battles witnessed by a never say die generation. But this seemingly innocuous blip on the second world war radar comes back to haunt the dying embers of this generation on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. Having had his sojourn to Corfu ruined by marijuana dealing mafiosi Spike returns, in the fifth instalment of the Sanguinetti mysteries, with thoughts of belated domesticity but the maverick lawyer is soon embroiled in a series of unexplained murders whose victims have links back to the socio-political melting pot of cross border collaboration between fascist sympathizers and misguided locals. Recently released MI5 papers give the plot added legitimacy and cast a spotlight on the seemingly dispensable status of the inhabitants of this former Moorish outpost to the overall war effort. Oxford educated ThomasMogford continues to develop Sanguinetti as an emotionally flawed personality whose black and white approach in his professional life does not always translate into emotional characteristics best suited to the longevity of his personal relationships. Jessica is his long suffering partner whose feminine touch brings out a more sensitive Spike but as the body count increases and the prime suspect tests deep-seated family loyalties his professional and personal lives inevitably becomes compromised The pace and syntax of the plot leaves you piecing together the clues in a virtual jigsaw that moves you from the dark days of the monochrome 1940’s to the gaming inspired technology of the 21st century but it’s the common thread of death and injustice that truly adds the heart stopping colour to Sanguinetti’s investigation. The final act is more Shakespearean tragedy than contemporary climax but this juxtaposition of the old and new is a tv adaptation waiting to happen.
A Thousand Cuts, by ThomasMogford, is the fifth book in the author’s Spike Sanguinetti Mystery series. Set in Gibraltar it focuses on the eponymous defense lawyer who in this instalment agrees to take on a tricky client – a volatile alcoholic named Massetti – at a colleague’s request. The case takes an unexpected turn and Sanguinetti is drawn into a tragedy that unfolded during the Second World War and led to his client’s father being sentenced by the courts to death by hanging.
Sanguinetti has plenty on his mind. He is making a home for his newly adopted toddler son, Charlie, and his fiancée, Jenny who is pregnant with their child. They are living with his father in the house he grew up in, an arrangement that seems to suit all given the amount of childcare the old man is expected to provide. Jenny wishes to find somewhere more appealing to live but with tax exiles requiring residency little decent housing is available within their price range.
The tax status of Gibraltar affects much that goes on including the pressure Sanguinetti finds himself under to service lucrative clients from around the world. His family have lived locally for generations so have many contacts, including the wealthy Stanfords who he has been close to since childhood. Drew Stanford is also a lawyer and Sanguinetti’s opponent on the Massetti case. When Drew announces that he intends to run for political office Sanguinetti is expected to offer his unquestionning support. His personal moral compass puts a strain on loyalties from all sides.
As with any good mystery there is a varied cast of characters whose history draws them together in unexpected ways. The plot is deftly presented in short chapters that keep the reader engaged.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the people, for example in a restaurant where Sanguinetti glances at the clientele:
“tax lawyers, liquoring up non-doms, their raucous laughter failing to conceal that telltale sharpness behind the eye. The insurance brokers – yesterday’s boom industry – in their sensible suits with a touch of the idiosyncratic thrown in: the spotted bow-tie, the statement jewellery. There was even the odd bored-looking Russian or Italian, ignoring his surgically enhanced wife, here under suffereance to see out his required period of tax residency.”
The reader quickly gets a feel for the challenges of living in such a place, the resentments that can fester and the history some would take risks to keep buried. When the death toll starts to rise Sanguinetti finds himself questionning how much he truly knows about long term acquaintances.
This is an engaging and entertaining read that deals well with the very human sides of the cast. As I knew nothing of Gibraltar, the evocation of the setting also added interest.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bloomsbury.
Those of us who are devotees of detective fiction, thrillers, police procedurals and mysteries, will be happy to be back in the company of Spike Sanguinetti. He is a satisfying anti-hero, no James Bond, rather a family man trying to do the right thing and make a living in the curious closed community of Gibraltar. The story concerns the solving of an historical mystery about who set off a bomb, an act of sabotage, in the WW2 Royal Naval dockyard in Gibraltar. It involves intrigue and cover-up, political manoeuvrings, legal rivalries and Spike having to deal with the wayward inclinations of his law firm's partner, the colourful eccentric, Peter Galliano. Running parallel to the main plot is an unusually intense personal, domestic drama about Spike's pregnant partner, Jessica Navarro. ThomasMogford very cleverly makes the two distinct dramas touch crucially on one another, and a dual tension is created. The narrative of Jessica's extremely difficult act of giving birth gives a chilling account of the risks and dangers experienced by a woman in such a fraught situation. A Thousand Cuts is an ideal book to read on the long-haul flight. I read it between London and Auckland, NZ.