World crime fiction #2

The retirement project: to read one crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.

Albania                                                                                                                        Sleeping Dogs, by Thomas Mogford.

The plot: Calypso, a young Albanian woman working in the tourist trade in Corfu, is attacked in her squalid flat by a man in a balaclava. She escapes to her homeland, pursued by her mysterious would-be killer. In Gibraltar, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti is seeing a psychologist to help him recover from traumas that include the serious injury of his business partner and the violent death of a woman. Sanguinetti is persuaded to join his ailing father on a recuperative holiday at his partner’s Corfu home. Instead, he is plunged into a tale of murder and revenge as the worlds of the jet-setting super rich and the Albanian mafia collide.

Where and when: The action is divided between Corfu, and an Albania that is caught between the old tyrannies of the Communist dictator Hoxha, and the opportunities and dangers of modern Europe. The story in Albania is split between Calypso’s hometown of Saranda and the mafia-run mountain village of Lazarat, where the traditional plantations of native cay mali tea have been replaced by cannabis farms.

The detectives: Sanguinetti is joined in his efforts to clear an innocent man by his ex-girlfriend, the “infuriatingly beautiful” Detective Sergeant Jessica Navarro of the Gibraltar Police.

Sense of Place: Saranda is a town of unfinished buildings, stray dogs and old men playing chess in roadside cafes. The countryside is scattered with the concrete bunkers build by Hoxha to repulse an invasion by the West that never happened; they are now used as shelters by the goatherds and shepherds who still tend their flocks on the hills. In town and country alike, doorways are hung with animal skulls, rag dolls and garlic to ward off evil (which is suspected of arriving in the shape of anyone with blue eyes). As the body count climbs, the plot is driven by the dictates of Kanun, the law that regulates Albanian vendettas.

Worth reading? I chose this book after reading William Boyd’s enthusiastic praise for Mogford’s “tremendous atmosphere (and) rich characterisation.” I found it curiously old-fashioned. The way the large cast of characters arrive in turn at a flamboyant party hosted in his palatial Corfu villa by media mogul Sir Leo Hoffman is like something out of Agatha Christie (that is not intended to be a criticism). There are more Christie echoes in the way the first body is discovered during a conducted tour of an archaeological dig. Sleeping Dogs is actually the fourth in a series featuring Spike Sanguinetti. If you enjoy classic detective stories with larger-than-life characters, start at the beginning with Shadow of the Rock and read your way through the books.

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