Bad Traffic – Simon Lewis

BTSL For something unique, original and fresh in the crime fiction and thriller genre, Bad Traffic serves up something that makes the grade, without doubt. Where some say crime fiction authors reflect the society we live in, Simon Lewis proves himself a master here.  He calls on recent crimes we hate to read about, with much sensitivity and with  absolutely no sense of capitalising for the sake of a commercial story.

Bad Traffic‘s author Simon Lewis knows China, possibly more than you or I could ever do.  He’s lived there for three years. He’s worked on the Rough Guides to China, Beijing, and Shanghai.  But here, in Bad Traffic, he takes a step into fiction and draws from the reality of our real world crime, creating a novel that invites almost instant page-turning, never straying from the reality on our doorsteps and its impact on victims and those close to them.

What is both outstanding and enlightening in Bad Traffic is the fact that we see the UK through the eyes of two Chinese men, Inspector Jian and illegal immigrant Ding Ming.

Jian has taken a call from his university-studying daughter, which suggests she is in very deep trouble.  Having been cut off, Jian calls on favours to get him to the UK with no delay.  The odds are stacked against him from the outset; the first being the fact that he speaks no English. Not long after his arrival in the UK he loses his credit card (splitting it in a lock he’s trying to break) and then he is mugged, losing his remaining cash.  The Chinese policeman, hell-bent on finding his daughter, becomes an outlaw in a foreign country.

Ding Ming meanwhile, had arrived in the UK a tad earlier than Jian.  He is a quiet, obedient, educated young man who has come to the UK with his wife to seek a more prosperous livelihood.  But, unexpectedly, he has been split from his wife as soon as they put their feet on English soil.  All his hopes for a better world are invested in his gangmasters.  They feed him total rubbish about the reception for the Chinese in the UK, make him fear the official authorities, but still, he trusts them.

The bullying of Ding Ming moves from the more subtle to the less subtle when his path crosses with the desperate and determined Jian.  Jian needs someone who can speak English and read maps. Jian is used to throwing his fists and doing whatever it takes to get what he wants or needs.  To Ding Ming there appears more evil in Jian, his fellow countryman than in the gangmasters he is yet to realise the full measure of.

The plot is this: Jian is in the UK to find his daughter and will employ whatever it takes to do so.  Ding Ming, expecting a better life, is caught up in the maelstrom that is the arrival and actions of Jian, where he only wants to be reunited with his wife and earn all those pound coins he is capable of.  There was one unexpected twist for me, slap bang in the middle of the novel.  It made me wonder what could possibly come next, but I was not disappointed at all.  Indeed, another twist had me admiring Lewis’s creative plot abilities.

The plotting is superb and the lean prose matches the urgency of the plot.  Think: the original series of “24” where it’s the first time you’re experiencing real time in TV format, albeit on a weekly basis.  Here, in Bad Traffic, Lewis has achieved the same for the reading-a-novel format and you have the advantage and beauty of choosing how often you catch the next instalment.  A word of warning to the working amongst you: if the top ten bestsellers were replaced by “most duvet days notched”, Bad Traffic would be in the top ten, without doubt.

And for such lean prose, where others merely comment, Lewis has more depth.  On completing this novel, you feel he does understand the Chinese and the Brits in equal measure.  There is such inhumanity in Bad Traffic that I felt my stomach twisting on more than one occasion.  Not that that was bad.  Far from it.  While enjoying a work of fiction, I was also reminded of these sad days of the global economy – legitimate or otherwise.

Luckily you can enjoy the book, the story, the novel that is Bad Traffic; but you won’t forget the roots and reality of crime behind it.  Simon Lewis has a major achievement here and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Bad Traffic – go on, you know you want to order it…

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