Mogford, Thomas - 'Sign of the Cross'
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS is number two in Thomas Mogford's series about lawyer Spike Sanguinetti. A third, HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, is also out now.
At CrimeFest 2014 Mogford said that the small size of Spike's home Gibraltar meant that his adventures had to take him further afield, and in this case he is called out to the other end of the Mediterranean. His Maltese uncle and aunt have died - in a murder-suicide, according to the local authorities. Spike is needed to sort out their affairs.
Malta is vividly realised without the book becoming a tourist guide. Historic and well-preserved in some places, run-down and seedy in others, and above all a tiny community; Spike sees both sides of the island. Its small size is part of the Malta's greatest problem. It has become notorious as a crossing place between Europe and Africa, and acts as a way-station for thousands of refugees on their way north. After a period in detention they are moved to run-down tent camps elsewhere on the island. They are a massive strain on the resources of a tiny economy and hence unpopular with many of the locals. Equally the refugees make easy pickings for predators.
Spike's love interest from SHADOW OF THE ROCK, Zahra, is now working as an Arabic-to-English translator for a refugee charity. Through her Spike gets to see conditions in the camps at first-hand.
Meanwhile, he looks into the deaths of his uncle and aunt. David Mifsud, an art historian, had been acting very strangely before his death and there is scant evidence for suicide. It soon looks to Spike as though his uncle's murder is connected to a deeper mystery. This side of the story brings in the Knights of Saint John, the order of knights which has run Malta since medieval times, and who are represented in the book by the baron who was David Mifsud's landlord.
With all the ancient chivalric orders and hidden secrets I was slightly worried we were getting into 'Da Vinci Code' territory, but this is ultimately a down-to-earth thriller. Spike is a realistic sort of hero. His home life is complicated by caring for an increasingly frail father and the early loss of an alcoholic mother. He's a bit of a fool when it comes to managing his love life, which makes trouble for those around him. But he is loyal to his friends and tries to do right by them, even if it drags him into danger.
Overall, a taut thriller with a strong sense of place and a conscience: Mogford isn't afraid to confront the conditions in the refugee camps.
Health warning: there is a graphic scene of murder in chapter one which may offend some readers. You can safely skip it.
Rich Westwood, England
last updated 25/05/2014 09:27