For a debut novel to stand out, it has to offer something special to the reader. I’ve read few crime books set in Cambodia and it’s not a country that has ever tempted me to visit. However, in the tradition of the best reading, I was completely pulled into the world created by K T Medina. White Crocodile is a story of violence and revenge against the backdrop of mine clearance in a country still recovering from conflict.
The white crocodile of the title refers to the symbol of fear and death according to a Cambodian myth. Its legend is evoked by locals in response to a series of fatalities in an area which is being cleared of mines by a humanitarian charity. Tess Hardy has taken a job with the organisation in order to investigate the death of her ex-husband, Luke. Although her marriage was characterised by violence, in her last conversation with her ex she could hear fear in his voice. When she arrives in Cambodia, she discovers that teenage mothers are disappearing from local villages and are later found mutilated and killed.
White Crocodile has a compelling narrative that grabs you right from the start of the book. At the outset there is a suspicious explosion that maims one of the other mine clearers and it’s not clear if Johnny is a victim or implicated in the conspiracy that surrounds all the killings. As the plot develops, Tess’s personal history, the killing of the outcast women and a murder investigation in Manchester are interweaved into a compelling narrative.
Medina cleverly makes sure that Tess Hardy is on equal footing with the other protagonists. She is a mine clearer in her own right and saves the life of Johnny using a mix of bravery and knowledge of land mines. This means that in a setting of vulnerable women, despite Tess’s abusive past, she seems an intrepid and determined seeker of truth.
White Crocodile is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Thanks to Faber for my review copy.