For a while the estate agent’s mantra ‘Location, location, location’ has been purloined by crime fiction with the ever expanding glut of international works translated into English offering a broadening range of geographical settings. With Shadow of the Rock, British author Thomas Mogford appears to be carving out his own niche with his Gibraltar-based protagonist lawyer, Spike Sanguinetti. On the surface, Shadow of the Rock may appear to be a Gibraltar-set novel but most of the story and action take place in Morocco. And in this, the start of a series, Mogford makes it clear that Paganini-loving Spike’s future outings may take him to locales further afield due to his family history and because Gibraltar places the lawyer at the hub of busy international economic activity. So, let’s start with our introduction to Spike, his home turf and his foray across the Straits into Morocco.
Spike’s humid summer evening is interrupted when an old school friend of his – Solomon Hassan – turns up at his home. Settled into a career in Morocco, Solomon is suddenly on the run after a Spanish girl has been found with her throat cut on the beach in Tangiers. Having been seen with her, Solomon is the prime suspect, but he has managed to slip away illegally and wants to avoid return. Even though Spike is a tax and not a criminal lawyer, Solomon wants his help with the case, especially to delay extradition. Spike is confident that his old friend is not capable of murder so he reluctantly takes on the case and travels to Tangiers to gather evidence. There, he encounters the Bedouin worker Zahra who is investigating the disappearance of her father, and who was the last person to see the Spanish girl alive. Soon, Spike is steering his own route through a trail of deceit and corporate corruption with his personal safety at risk, and with little help from cynical local police Inspector, Hakim Eldrassi.
By employing previously little-used locations in Shadow of the Rock Mogford has created a story of modern intrigue well-drenched in a rich evocation of setting, culture and history. The author displays a keen eye and considerable talent for vivid and beautiful description. The plot follows a linear route told from Spike’s point of view with some minor characters memorably drawn, e.g. a philosophical hotel receptionist. However, a little oddly, we may learn of Spike’s background in this first Sanguinetti Mystery but at the end of the book it is possible to conclude that the character of Spike still remains quite well-hidden. I’d hope to see his character fleshed out more in the second of the series (especially after one of his actions coming towards the end of this novel).
Taking in a variety of cultures and levels of wealth from poverty to ridiculously rich in a plot that is disclosed as a flower may open, Mogford’s Shadow of the Rock utilises short and sharp chapters to navigate this with pace. For its settings alone, the novel provides a welcome and enjoyable addition to the canon of British written crime fiction. The first question to be asked for the second novel has to be ‘Will Spike return to his role as a tax lawyer?’ One hopes that now that he has crossed the divide back into criminal work that he remains there and can offer more suitable cases for crime readers. The Shadow of the Rock is one for those who love their crime fiction steeped in extra intrigue provided by more unusual locations.
Note to readers: the novel does contain one scene of rather brutal violence.
Shadow of the Rock was published by Bloomsbury in the UK on 2 August. The book is also available in the US, see Amazon link here.