Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement for the last few months you’ll be well aware of the campaign against Joseph Kony, leader of The Lords Resistance Army and recruiter of child soldiers – recruit as in, kidnap children, force them to kill their families, then drag them into lives of murder, rape and brutality. This horrific situation provides the backdrop for Stav Sherez’s third novel, A Dark Redemption.
In London a Ugandan student, Grace Okello, is savagely murdered. She’s been raped and tortured, her heart cut from her body. The initial assumption, that this is just another sex-crime, doesn’t sit well with DI Jack Carrigan, but he’s getting pressure from above to close the case; his boss is aware of the potential media storm and the political implications so any answer will do, as long as it’s fast and neat. Carrigan is a principled man though and his partner, Geneva Miller – seconded to the team to spy on Carrigan – is convinced that Grace’s murder was nothing to do with sex. Grace is an enigma, even to her friends, and as they dig further they realise she has the kind of secrets which can get you killed.
Carrigan has his own secrets though, and through a series of flashbacks which drip with menace, we see Jack as a younger man, taking a post-graduation trip to Uganda with two friends, Ben and David. They’re adventurous and idealistic, but in the alien environs of Uganda they are swiftly educated about the true state of the country. They witness police beating a man on the street and fail to intervene, but they know enough to leave town and the decision to head into the jungle results in an encounter which changes their lives forever.
As the investigation into Grace’s murder progresses Carrigan and his team begin to unearth links with a radical Ugandan resistance group in London, plunging them into the twilight world of the African diaspora. Miller is convinced that Grace’s PhD thesis on Ugandan warlords is at the heart of the matter and the harder she pushes the more doors close. Ultimately Carrigan is forced to face the events of his past. We know David died in the jungle and Ben has dedicated his life to reporting on the area, but exactly how it played out is a mystery even to Carrigan. Sherez skilfully knits the twin narratives together, building to a startling conclusion which more than does to justice to the seriousness of the subject matter.
In writing A Dark Redemption Sherez has taken those old Newsnight packages, and the reports on the World Service you listened to with half an ear, and worked them into a compelling crime novel which is honest-to-god unputdownable. His London is a pulsing mass of humanity, multi-layered and richly evoked, and he takes you to places many writers would rather ignore. The Ugandan scenes are especially atmospheric and Sherez has clearly researched the situation in depth – the characters are horribly credible and it’s that above all else which makes this such a chilling book.
A Dark Redemption marks the start of a new crime series and on the strength of the first instalment I think it’s going to be a successful one. Jack Carrigan is a deep, introspective character in the mould of Kurt Wallander, and in Geneva Miller Sherez has created the perfect foil. With cracking pacing and prose which tends towards the lyrical Sherez has produced a stand out piece of work that will definitely be making my top five books of the year.