A journalist returns to war-ravaged Africa to investigate the murder of an American aid worker from his past.
Harris, The Observer’s U.S. correspondent, taps into his experience reporting on the civil war in Sierra Leone for this sincere but derivative debut novel. Journalist Danny Kellerman is living a ghost’s life in London in 2004, trying unsuccessfully to find domestic bliss with his girlfriend Rachel and chafing under the shadow of his father, a legendary Fleet Street ink-slinger. He’s haunted by memories of his fiery, doomed affair with Maria Consuela Tirado, an American do-gooder working to rehabilitate child soldiers scarred by Sierra Leone’s decade-long conflict. Out of the blue, a note from her arrives. “I need you,” she writes. “I’m in trouble.” But Maria is already dead, gunned down in diamond country, where smuggling, piracy and banditry still pay better than righteousness. Danny flees to Freetown, where, assisted by local fixer Kam, he tries to unravel the complex story that ties together his dead lover, American diplomat Harvey Benson and former revolutionary William Jusu Gbamanja, a bureaucrat angling to become Minister of Mines. Harris conveys the civil upheaval of Sierra Leone’s troubled past and Danny’s angst with enthusiasm, but too many pitfalls trip up the book’s momentum. A recap of the country’s troubled history weighs down the first third, while awkward flashbacks add little to the portrait of Maria, who Danny discovers was not only murdered but raped, a setup designed to make it appear as if her death had to do with a bungled child-smuggling operation.
A serviceable but ultimately disposable drama about the mercenary nature of men.