I put this on hold at my local library after seeing it got two votes as a favourite by EuroCrime reviewers last year (I’d already read the book that got three votes).
WHITE CROCODILE made me feel equal parts anger and guilt in much the same way as BOX 21 did a few years ago. Anger that humans can be so horrible to each other. Guilt at…what?…the luck of my birth I suppose. And the fact I haven’t immediately given every dollar I have to help resolve the sorts of problems the novel depicts.
Its central character (other than the eponymous white crocodile) is Tess Hardy. Having been a mine clearing specialist for the British military she is well-placed to respond when her ex-husband Luke, who had called her to tell her of his fears, dies in a mine clearing accident in Cambodia. Tess makes her way to Battambang in the country’s north west and starts working for the same charity that Luke had been working for and tries to find out what might have happened. Could it possibly have been the mythical white crocodile that locals are afraid haunts the nearby minefield and is the cause of Luke’s death along with the deaths and disappearances of many young women?
While I’m sure (indeed fervently hope) the book is not entirely autobiographical its author shares some of Tess’ work history and it shows. This is a book which drags the reader into its frightening world in a very believable way. The delicate mechanics of the task of clearing land of mines, the sheer scale of the problem and the human toll of it, the nauseatingly low value placed on human life…you can’t help but be moved.
Medina hasn’t relied on a confronting setting alone to demand the reader’s attention: the story is a ripper too. Soon after Tess’ arrival there is another accident – similar to the one in which Luke was involved – and the suspects pile up. But her investigation – any investigation – is fraught with very real danger. Interspersed into the main story are snippets of other threads. A body of an Asian girl is found in England. If she is Cambodian how did she get there? And there are flashbacks to the a childhood of almost unimaginable horror. Who did that little boy grow up to be?
It’s only the beginning of February and I already feel like I’ve read multiple contenders for my end of year favourite books list, WHITE CROCODILE included. It’s evocative, informative and genuinely suspenseful. I loved it. Even though it made me feel wretched.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Faber and Faber 
Length 378 pages
Book Series standalone?
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Oh dear – this sounds so good but so depressing…
Yes it’s both Moira. In one way difficult to recommend for that reason. Not one for when you’re already feeling gloomy.
This one will be published in the US in June, I think. I’ve had it on my list and am glad to know that it was worthwhile. Maybe not exactly a summer book, but it sounds like one that is absorbing. Thanks for sharing!
It’s rare for a book to be published here before the US! Hope you think the book worth reading when you get to it.
I’ve heard so many good things about this one, Bernadette! Glad to know that you were really drawn into it too. I know exactly what you mean about feeling guilt and anger when you read a book like that – I’ve had a similar experience with some books I’ve read.
I did have this on my wish-list/RADAR but deleted on the grounds that I don’t really need any more books. I may have to reconsider.
On the one hand, this sounds like a fascinating book. I like the side threads too, especially the mystery of that poor little boy. On the other hand, I’m not fond of books that make me feel wretched …
I can’t read your review yet because I’d like to read it without knowing too much….