In this thriller sequel, the son of a Filipina prostitute becomes a kingpin in Australia’s opal underworld, where he deals with a truly monstrous find.
In a town in the Philippines, Ali stabs an old silver merchant and steals his travel pack. It is Ali’s first significant robbery, having previously done only minor pilfering to help him and his prostitute mother, Zeena, survive. To hide him from the police, Zeena sends Ali off to her sister, who lives in a rural region. He enjoys peace for a time, even gets a local girlfriend; then all is disrupted when rebels rape and pillage the village. Physically and emotionally scarred, Ali returns to Zeena, and both soon move to Manila. Zeena gets a regular job and boyfriend, but then a menacing former john appears. Ali kills the man, pockets more goods, and also gets into the local drug trade. When Ali becomes a threat to top dealers, he and Zeena make their way to Australia, where he starts to funnel his stash into the opal business. Now based in the Coober Pedy mining town, Ali marries the daughter of Austrian expatriates; Zeena finds new happiness, too. Then tragedy strikes again, permanently embittering Ali. He uses goons to grab others’ finds, leading to a scheme to snag the amazing dinosaur-type eggs fossilized with opal overlay, which drought-stricken local farmers discovered when trying their hands at mining. By novel’s end, Ali gets a piece of the action and high-tails it out of Australia—only to be stranded with some dangerous cargo. Calderwood (Opal Eggs of Fire, 2013, etc.) opens up a rich vein of opal industry detail in this entertainingly wild ride; its tail end brings forth a bloody, chomping creature. Occasionally, Calderwood drills a bit too deep into describing various mining processes, and his repeated crosscutting to the farmers’ story gets distracting, especially given the novel’s strong start focusing on the rise of nuanced villain Ali. There’s the making of a fun high-concept thriller here, though it would benefit from further polishing.
Fascinating if overloaded.