This thriller with a literary twist tells a tale of personal discovery, guns, corruption and the folly of international intervention in a war-torn country overseas.
Driven by fate, three men of very different ilk meet in the jungle. Oliver, a junior banker, is seeking answers about the death of his father, Johan. Captain Christmas leads a murderous community of armed men, women, and children, hiding from justice and looking for dignity in the forest. Young Davey is unemployed, fanatical about guns and sees a worldwide conspiracy in the disarmament of Christmas' group, which Johan had organized in an attempt to balance peace and justice. On a dare, Davey travels overseas to stop the disarmament. Their meeting, moral struggles, and the surrounding events cause each of them to lose something of consequence: illusion, conviction, or life itself.
Plot: The story unfolds at a steady pace, but some subplots could be tightened to improve the pacing. Extraneous details also slow the narrative down.
Prose: The prose is sound, though there are some grammatical issues that could be addressed. Also, the writing could be tightened significantly to remove unnecessary words that detract from the narrative flow and overall story.
Originality: Though the general premise may be familiar to some readers, the storyline of this work is highly original and will expose readers to an unfamiliar world.
Character Development: The author does a solid job with character development. Oliver and Davey are well drawn and vivid, as is Captain Christmas, though he can be over the top at times.
Date Submitted: April 02, 2018
BlueInk starred review
Adriaan Verheul’s gripping novel A Clean Death revolves around the murder of an international aid worker.
The story begins as American family man Oliver disembarks from a plane in the City by the Water in a country that, though unnamed, bears a strong resemblance to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oliver has arrived to set in order the affairs of his late father, Johan.
Johan was on assignment here for Gavels and Ploughshares International (GAPI), running a program to disarm a militia headed by Captain Christmas, a strongman with a messiah complex. However, Johan’s mission was cut short when an unknown assailant shot him to death. As Oliver deals with corrupt officials and his late father’s sometimes exasperating colleagues, he attempts to unravel the mystery of Johan’s death.
Meanwhile, Davey, a young American at loose ends, learns of GAPI’s disarmament project and believes it’s part of a conspiracy to institute a new world order. He eventually joins Christmas, who he naively reasons is standing against this potential tyranny and deserves support.
Verheul’s background in international affairs has taken him to conflict zones, and he has a clear and unsentimental eye for the personalities who congregate in such places. From Johan’s pompous boss Bruno; to self-righteous Vashti, who works for a rival aid organization; to V-6, Christmas’ conniving lieutenant –every character is uncompromisingly well-drawn. Verheul’s writing style is crisp and witty, and dry humor abounds, as when Oliver observes that Little Tromp Tower, the city’s swanky night spot, “was not exactly little; nor was there any tower in sight.”
Some may find the resolution disappointing, as an obvious character turns out to be the villain, despite a plethora of other tantalizing suspects. But it fits well with the novel’s overall realism.
Overall, fans of Graham Greene’s elegant writing and David Ignatius’s and Dan Fesperman’s topical thrillers will find similar pleasures here.
Also available as an ebook.
A CLEAN DEATH
Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5
Characters spark interest and philosophical reflection as they speak to deep and complicated questions about poverty, politics, corruption, and loyalty.
Adriaan Verheul’s murder mystery A Clean Death moves from dangerous cities to vicious jungles, exploring themes of family, bureaucracy, and survival.
Oliver thought he was traveling to the City by the Water to pick up his father’s remains. Instead, he becomes entangled in the mystery of how his father, Johan, died while working for GAPI, an international aid organization.
On paper, Johan’s GAPI mission looks like a well-intentioned plan to disarm a local tribal warlord, Captain Christmas, and help his fighters reintegrate into society. But Oliver quickly learns that few things are as they seem in the City by the Water, and there are even fewer people that he can trust.
A fascinating cast of characters exude their own personalities, speech styles, and idiosyncrasies through well-paced reveals. Oliver embodies the complicated experience of grief while dealing with Johan’s murder. Johan’s coworkers and the corrupt police and military are easy to imagine, captured through the tones of their voices and the styles of their gaits.
Captain Christmas and Davey, a young hothead turned accidental pro-gun activist, also play major roles. Captain Christmas and his followers are not as well fleshed-out as other characters, despite their centrality to the plot. Davey is introduced late in the novel and is integrated awkwardly, making him less believable than other characters; he mostly serves as a cipher for commentary on how naive foreigners get themselves into situations they cannot understand.
The main plot revolves around Johan’s death, and the mystery of his murder deepens with each chapter. A subplot involving a romantic interest, with witty banter and cathartic inner monologues, has authentic qualities.
Even though some major questions remain at the end of the novel, Oliver, Davey, and Captain Christmas all have stories that include the evolution of characters and end with a sense of closure. Their experiences spark interest and philosophical reflections as they speak to deep and complicated questions about poverty, politics, corruption, and loyalty.
While the story switches viewpoints and timelines, it is always clear who is leading the narrative and when it is taking place. Each character’s journey features many places that seem to be written with experience, with location imagery and atmosphere. The intricate bureaucracy of GAPI, the police, and military are all written with expertise and attention to detail.
A Clean Death is a murder mystery with political undertones, filled with intrigue and interest, that questions morality and motivation through the lens of a grieving son.
A debut novel revolves around one man’s attempts to uncover the circumstances surrounding his father’s murder in a violence-torn Third World country.
Like some strange adult fairy tale, Verheul’s book takes place in an unnamed tropical country filled with such mythical-sounding municipalities as City by the Water. It is a land peopled by characters like Captain Christmas, V6, Skipper Boutique, and Colonel Neptune. When Johan’s banker son, Oliver, first arrives, he finds everyone to be friendly and helpful; they seem genuinely sad about his father’s death. But as time passes, Oliver realizes that they all have their own motives; everyone wants money from him; and no one can or wants to really explain what happened. Lost in the exigencies of protocol, politics, and public relations, Oliver tries to follow the money trail. He learns his father had an unusually large amount of money in the bank. He discovers that Johan was the lead man on the Disarmament and Stabilization Program, a scheme to trade farm implements and other domestic items to the terrorist followers of Christmas in exchange for turning in their guns. Oliver also flirts with a woman who may or may not have been involved romantically with his father. Meanwhile in the U.S., Davey, an unemployed gun fanatic, learns about the DSP. Convinced this is a plot to take away everyone’s guns, Davey heads to the unnamed country on the dime of a barroom of fellow gun enthusiasts to convince Christmas he should keep his weapons. In this story that is part mystery, part thriller, and part introspective examination of personal values, Verheul has a real eye for how money and corruption affect the day-to-day life in a Third World nation. The author establishes believable characters, humor, and pathos in his well-paced tale through concise and efficient writing (“Christmas often wondered how the army had never been able to find them. They had tried, though. They flew helicopters over the forest—that is, if they could pay for fuel—and sent out patrols to find their base. But the forest had become their ally”). Verheul also manages to bring the distinctive cast of characters to several individual and credible epiphanies. This lively and enjoyable read should appeal to those who prefer their action thrillers with a literary twist and those who take theirs neat.
An engaging tale about a banker’s struggles to solve a family mystery.