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Alisha Barba is due to return to her job as a police officer after a long period of sick leave following a serious injury she received in the line of duty. Out of the blue she is contacted by an old friend, Cate Beaumont, who asks her to come to a reunion at their school. Ali and Cate had had a serious falling out eight years earlier which left Ali feeling guilty and sorry to have lost her closest friend, so she’s delighted to hear from Cate, and also intrigued to know what has inspired her to get in touch after all this time. They don’t get much chance to talk at the reunion, but heavily pregnant Cate takes the opportunity to whisper “They want to take my baby. They can’t. You have to stop them…” A few minutes later as they leave the reunion, Cate and her husband are run down by a taxi. Felix is killed outright and Cate’s life hangs in the balance…
Although this isn’t strictly part of the Joe O’Loughlin series since he isn’t in it, it links back to the previous books in that series. Ali had a smallish part in Lost, as a Detective Constable on DI Vincent Ruiz’ team. Ruiz has now retired but still acts as a mentor and friend to young Ali when she needs one. I love this way Robotham has of rotating the main viewpoint through the various characters. It keeps each book feeling fresh but gives the reader some points of reference so that it also has that comfortable feeling of familiarity that all good series give. And it also helps with one of the perennial problems of thrillerish crime series with only one central character – namely, that usually the reader knows that all must end reasonably well for the protagonist or the series would have to end.
The plot of this one is hard-hitting, involving illegal immigration, sex trafficking and forced commercial surrogacy. The official investigation is going too slowly for Ali’s liking so she begins to ask her own questions and the trail soon takes her to the sleaziest parts of Amsterdam. Her old friend Ruiz is on hand to give advice and assistance, and she has the support of her boyfriend Dave, also a police officer. Soon Ali is in trouble not just with the bad guys but with her superior officers back home, but she’s now too involved to pull back – too many lives are dependent on her, some of them very vulnerable. Robotham doesn’t hold back in the picture he gives of the exploitation of women trafficked as sex slaves from some of the war-torn places of the world and he has clearly done his research as thoroughly as always.
However, the grimness of the storyline is lifted by the characterisation of Ali. Although she’s following her own path in this case, she’s not a maverick, nor is she angst-ridden. She has a lovely, loving Sikh family who’d like to see her happily married, an appealing and supportive boyfriend in Dave, and as far as possible she works alongside her colleagues and keeps them informed of what she’s up to. She is a little bit Supergirlish on occasion but not enough to destroy her credibility. And her voice is very convincing – no mean feat for a male Australian author to get so authentically inside the head of a young British Sikh woman.
This is the fifth Michael Robotham book I’ve read and as far as I’m concerned the man can do no wrong. He can tell a gritty story without having to resort to excessive bad language or gratuitous violence – there is some strong violence in the book but not of the police beating up innocent bystanders variety. So often in thrillers the investigation element is weak and so the book loses credibility, but not here – the plotting is tight, there’s proper detective work and everything that happens is totally plausible. And both writing and characterisation are great, with just enough humour to give a touch of lightness to the otherwise dark plot. If only he could be persuaded to stop using the present tense – but at least he uses it well, and I suppose a girl can’t have everything in this life! If you haven’t already guessed, this one is highly recommended. As are all his others…
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Mulholland Books.