I have a complaint to make about Michael Robotham’s books, or rather, the effect they’re having on me – they have turned me into an insomniac. From the moment I pick up one of his novels until I turn the last page, I am unable to sleep. Last night, The Wreckage, proved to be no exception and, as a consequence, I feel the book’s title now applies to me J
Seriously, last year, I spent a couple of weeks reading everything of Robotham’s I could get my hands on and loved every story, character, plot and word. I deliberately saved this book for my holidays, knowing I’d be guaranteed at least one terrific read. I was not disappointed.
Once the disturbing prologue is out of the way, The Wreckage commences by introducing us to a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Luca Terracini, who works and lives “outside the wire” in Iraq, hoping to file a world-changing or, at least, war-changing story. When he stumbles on a series of robberies at multinational banks in Baghdad, and uncovers shady financial deals in the process, Terracini may just have been handed either the Holy Grail of journalism or a death sentence.
Segue to London and one of my favourite characters in crime/thriller fiction, retired cop, Vincent Ruiz. On the eve of his daughter’s marriage, hard on the outside but soft-as-a-marshmallow-on-the-inside Ruiz is conned by a needy and attractive young girl in a clever grift. When her partner is found brutally tortured and dead, Ruiz understands that, not only is this young girl in danger, but also she has inadvertently exposed a conspiracy that could overturn not just the British banking system, but rock the foundations of the global economy and bring down the careers of powerful and dangerous men as well.
And so, the story is established. Larger in scope than his other novels, Robotham tackles the greedy, mystifying world of international banking, taxation fraud, funded terrorism, and uses the world as his stage.
When I first started reading this book, I was disappointed that Joe O’Loughlin and Ruiz didn’t feature that, instead, this new character, Luca, and the Middle East, took centre stage. But, as the action proceeds and the pace becomes utterly relentless, my initial misgivings were soon forgotten as Luca and the clever accountant he befriends, Daniela, start to rattle the local authorities’ nerves and become established as characters the reader loves and who possess resolve and integrity.
Enter, Ruiz, stage right (yay!) and the story, which was already moving apace, begins to accelerate, speeding through countries, characters and a growing body count without pausing for breath. Suspense builds as does the reader’s anticipation and our level of care for the characters and the situations they are placed in. I think this is Robotham’s real strength. Despite this fabulous tempo, and the complexity of the tale, never once does Robotham forget about the characters that give his story heart, that flesh out the plots and endows them and their consequences with a terrible humanity. Even the most hateful of individuals are given a context, and thus their deeds meaning – all of which makes the approaching climax the more nail-biting, the more suspenseful.
Motives and machinations are assigned to various people and organisations, from the CIA, MI6, or the huge bank, Mersey Fidelity, to a personal assistant, young jihadist, or ambitious brother, exposing the absence (or deliberate denial) of an ethical framework. Truth is absent from the commercial wheelings and dealings taking place; ambition is king. Thank goodness then for Ruiz and O’Loughlin who shine wherever and whenever they appear and yet, for all their heroics, also have feet of clay and Ruiz particularly, a knack for attracting trouble.
So does Terracini. When he and Ruiz finally encounter each other and understand they’re on the same side, the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportions.
What I love about Robotham’s books is that amidst the large-scale crimes and their ripple effect are all-important themes. In The Wreckage, truth and lies play an important role, not simply because the main characters search and long for the truth, but because it’s absence is revealed as the first serious casualty in the breakdown of personal, professional and international relationships. Truth is not just a word or an ideal in this book, but a moral code and those who choose to live by it suffer and are rarely rewarded for their principles.
Another theme is that of family – whether it’s how we establish and keep one together, or how easily they can be torn apart. How one decision, one misjudgement can hurt so many but also, how in the end, family (the real or pseudo kind) is all, for better or worse, we have. It’s this kind of thought-provoking and beautifully rendered theme that places Robotham above the average (and even above-average) thriller writers and which give his books unexpected richness and depths.
The Wreckage is a marvellous rollercoaster of a read that I literally could not put down. Robotham has done it again. And, while I am sleep-deprived and exhausted, I can’t wait for him to write another novel – please, Michael, I want some more!