Savages 2: The Spectre

Written by Sabri Louatah

Review written by Michael Jecks

Savages 2: The Spectre
RRP: £6.99
Released: August 16, 2018

There has been an election in France, and the winner of the highly tense ballot is France’s first ever Arab candidate, Chaouch. But then, on the evening of the election, Chaouch is shot in the head by a young muslim.

The assailant, Krim, has received his orders from his cousin, Nazir. But Krim and Nazir are not the only people affected by the police response. Their dragnet hauls in all Krim and Nazir’s family, it affects the wealthy Fouad, who is also in love with Chaouch’s daughter. This shooting makes life for the women in the family particularly difficult. Attempted murder has ripples that affect many more than only the immediate people involved.

The investigating judge, Henri Wagner, has his own problems: legal, operational, political, and, he will soon discover, with his family too, because his daughter is involved with the attempted assassin, Krim.

This is a book of great depth. There are a great many characters, most of whom are quite well-depicted, although the writer does occasionally slip into stereotypes, especially when describing police officers or judges, which rather rankled on first reading.

However this is not a book I could warm to. It is not, let me say, the sort of book for which SHOTS was developed. For one thing, it is not really a crime book. Yes, it is the story of a crime: the protagonists, the victims, those affected at the margins are all in there, but it is not a straight story, because there is no resolution. Why? Because this is the second in what the publisher describes as the “St Etienne Quartet” (in one line at the end of the blurb on the back of the book).

As such, it is quite likely that I have missed a chunk of back story, because presumably the first book in the series would have provided that. But I could not see that there was a first book from the front cover, nor could I tell from opening the book.

As a reviewer, I tend not to look at the blurb on the back. It’s my job to read the book, and I try to do so without bias. But as a crime reader and fan, I was not happy or impressed to reach page 387 to see “To be continued” at the end of the page. No resolution, no capture of guilty parties, but the reader is left with a need to compose him or herself to waiting for the next instalment - and the one after that - to discover what is really going on.

In short, reading this was like reading a middle piece of the Forsyte Saga without knowing about Fleur and Soames. And this is no Forsyte Saga, to be fair. On the information in this book, Krim and Nazir remained flimsy characters. There is much more effort spent in depicting the thoughts of the Arab women in their family, but I couldn’t warm to them or even look on them as particularly convincing. They didn’t ring true to me. I suspect the author has set out a plotline, and now expects his characters to conform to it.

It may well prove to be a brilliant quartet that has real substance to it. But I read it over some time, waiting to be fired with an enthusiasm that never materialised.

Usually I love a book with foreign settings, different police forces, different cultures, but this one didn’t do it for me. Perhaps it was just the fact of reading it without realising that there was a first book in the series, but I don’t think so.

The proof of this was my sense of relief and expectation when I set this book aside and instead began to read Gianrico Garofiglio’s The Cold Summer. Within two pages I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down. It has a pace and depth of characterisation that I felt was lacking in Savages 2.

This is a very intriguing book that sets out a highly believable scenario that promises much. Sadly I didn’t find that the promise materialised. My own advice for anyone considering this book would be to get the first in the series first, and see what you think of that.

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