The Wreckage is an explosive thriller, stylish and pacy, with the sort of literary flourishes I don’t often encounter in this genre – such as this one, which has stayed with me since I read it: “Kunther draws on his cigarette and exhales a stream of smoke that looks like his very spirit is escaping from his chest.” Damn, I wish I’d written that.
I read after the fact that events in The Wreckage are based on a true story and I tip my hat to Michael Robotham for pulling off a complex plot and a compelling read.
I came to The Wreckage and Michael Robotham on a circuitous route via Murder in Mesopotamia and Agatha Christie. I was interested in reading crime novels set in ancient Mesopotamia/modern day Iraq. Though on the surface these books appear to have little in common, in fact both draw on historically contingent, popular perceptions of this part of the world.
When Christie published her novel in 1936, Iraq was all about the treasures being unearthed in archeological digs. Murder in Mesopotamia is set on a dig, although most of the action takes place in the claustrophobic setting of the expedition house at Tell Yarimjah and other than the house boy, Abdullah, the locals hardly rate a mention.
The Wreckage was published in 2011, when Iraq is all about terrorism, corruption and money laundering – although its ancient history is acknowledged in the words of General al-Uzri: “This country is old. My ancestors created writing and philosophy and religion when yours were painting drawings on rock walls. This was the cradle of civilisation, but still you treat us like savages and barbarians.”
More Iraqis feature in Robotham’s work than in Christie’s, including some nuanced and sympathetic characters. And although both books play to popular stereotypes of the country and its people, I appreciate Robotham’s attempts to provide insight into how people live and think in a part of the world so poorly understood.
I’ve barely made reference to the plot, which takes readers from Baghdad to London and involves missing millions in US aid, a missing British banker, a couple of grifters, disaffected Pakistani immigrants, a hit man, an Arabic-speaking freelance journalist, forensic auditor, and a very pregnant woman. I was impressed to learn that ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, a key player in this maelstrom, is a regular fixture in Robotham’s novels as I didn’t feel at all left out reading about him here for the first time. More kudos to Robotham for pulling that off.
I read crime fiction for the politics, pace, sense of place and characters, and The Wreckage delivers on all my criteria.