Reviewed by: Shantanu Bhattacharya
Author: Michael Robotham
Thrillers are forever. They are the comfort food for many readers like me - the dal chawal or hakka noodles that many of us crave when we are tired of having the rogan joshes and steak tartares of literary writing. We know what to expect, the plot twists, the heroic characters, the devious villains, the urgency of saving the world/person, and successful denoument. We know all this and that makes us happy. Enough to go back to the thrillers repeatedly, whenever we need some respite and comfort in our reading. All we thriller-loving readers ask for is a potentially plausible plot, and in the absence of that, a cracking pace and cathartic conclusion.
By this yardstick Michael Robotham does a middling job in The Wreckage. Other than the fact that the title has no real relevance to the plot, the story is eminently plausible, dealing with international financial wheeling dealing and chicanery in the backdrop of the Iraq war and subsequent occupation by US and British forces.
Two stories progress in tandem. One set in Iraq, initially stars the Pulitzer winning journalist Luca Terracini who is apparently daring and resourceful enough to be living outside the Green Zone with Iraqi people, being half Iraqi himself. The other story involves a washed out, retired cop (aren't they all?), Vincent Ruiz, who is first mugged, then transfixed by a young girl with some extraordinary resources and powers.
Luca starts to cover, then investigate, the robbery and disappearance of large amounts of reconstruction money from Iraqi banks. In this he is aided, both in professional and carnal terms by an UN financial auditor, Daniela Garner. Things rapidly escalate, and some bombings and attempts on his life later, Luca has to flee Iraq; but clearly he has stumbled upon something really big. On the other hand, in London, detective Ruiz realizes that his mugger has access some big secret hidden in a notebook she doesn't even remember stealing, that people are willing to kill for, the first victim being her junkie boyfriend.
The rest of the book traces the two storylines and how they merge, exposing multimillion dollar fraudulent banking transactions, helped along with the pregnant wife of a banker who had disappeared with the notebook everyone wants to lay their hands on. Meanwhile MI6 and FBI is also involved somehow - the question being, are the intelligence agencies friends or foes? The story is fairly detailed and the conclusion not completely obvious.
Micheal Robotham is a competent thriller writer. The language flows smoothly. The characters are well delineated, if a bit one-note. He resists making the protagonists into superheroes - a trap that writers like Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy fall into frequently. Maybe it is the Britishness in him that makes his characters more understated and realistic. However, that also means that personally I felt that the payoff at the conclusion was not as satisfying as I would expect from a thriller that is 500 pages long. I finished the book with a curious feeling of emotional disconnect, not really happy for the characters who survive or sad for those that die. Again, I might have been spoiled by masters of the genre like Ludlum, but the conclusion could definitely have been more forceful.
All in all, a good read, but there definitely are better thrillers out there.