New crime fiction gaily leaps political boundaries. Fictional detectives have marked their patches from Istanbul to Iceland, and Michael Walters's The Shadow Walker takes us further than ever - to Outer Mongolia. Among traditional survivals and explosions of new industry, Inspector Nergui, chief of the Serious Crime Squad, has to solving some exceedingly gruesome murders.
There are plenty of hacked-off body parts here to satisfy the most lurid of tastes. The fourth victim is a geologist, whose head has been neatly placed atop the television set in his hotel room. He was a British national, so Drew MacLeish, a senior CID officer, is dispatched 5,000 miles from his beloved Manchester to assist Nergui, and to reassure the media that something is being done about a British death in this remotest of parts.
Seen through Drew's eyes, Mongolia is a cross between a still-tribal existence, where a suburb of Ulan Baator consists of felt tents, and a geological Wild West where foreign businesses and scientists search for concessions in the lucrative mining areas. Gold is especially sought-after. The portrait of a fledgling nation struggling to assert a new identity is vividly done, and the political intrigues which Nergui must navigate are chilling and convincing - with an unflattering portrait of a cynical British ambassador. Nergui himself is an attractive character, with a subtle intelligence.
Soon the detectives are heading for an assignation deep in the Gobi desert, a surreal location where a holiday camp provides a vast beach experience, minus the sea. Foreign tourists, weary Western oilmen and sundry sinister characters gather for R&R, the bolder swigging fermented mare's milk and vodka served by waiters in traditional crimson robes. The influx of Westerners has created problems with the locals, such as clashes over gold-mining, adding another dimension to the mystery of the murder. Another death, of a policeman, makes it even more urgent to find a solution.
Back in the city, Drew has got himself kidnapped. Desperately searching Ulan Baator for him, Nerui locates a nasty collection of severed limbs: is Manchester's finest still intact? Walters cuts between the search and the gagged victim with nail-biting skill, although this is his first novel. It's a complex book, but compulsive reading, and the descriptions of Mongolia are richly enjoyable. I look forward to another bloodthirsty visit with Nergui as my guide.Reuse content