In Jones’ chilling debut thriller, a precocious Tunisian adolescent discovers that high-level government officials are involved in a sex trade involving young children.
A’dan Didaz wants nothing more than an A-Phone for his 13th birthday. Instead, his journalist mother, Sohaira, surprises him with a trip to the fictional country of Gumibel, on which he will be accompanied by his father, Pau. A’dan is baffled by his mother’s sudden determination to send him and his father far away, her recent decision to wear a hijab, and the appearance of a mysterious, yellow violin case in her office. His father, a Catalan freedom fighter and journalist, believes that Sohaira has renewed her investigation into a Gumibelian-Belanese arms-for-drugs connection. Pau, meanwhile, makes the dubious decision to involve A’dan in his investigation of a pedocriminality ring. Pau leads his 13-year-old son on a multicountry tour, where they learn about children as young as two being sexually abused by their parents and grandparents. He soon finds out that influential politicians may be involved. Jones’ disturbing account is based upon real-life reports from the late 1990s; the author points out that pedophilia is not a new Internet-based perversion but one as old as history. Unfortunately, the narrative occasionally lacks fluidity, as it’s dominated by flashbacks and A’dan’s summaries of research materials he has read. The author’s frequent use of aliases and nicknames may also confuse readers, particularly with such a dizzying array of characters. It’s difficult to parse this novel’s intended audience; with its teenage protagonist, it might seem aimed at a middle-school audience, but the subject matter may be too upsetting for all but the most mature readers. Indeed, A’dan, wise beyond his years, concludes that too many people simply cannot confront such disgusting realities. The story concludes without an easy resolution, but Jones’ ending promises a sequel.
An engaging, if uneven, thriller about a distressing investigation.