World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.
The book: Missing Barbados, by Willem Pain
The plot: An entertaining if far-fetched affair involving an English aristocrat’s missing daughter, a jewel-encrusted golden sword, and shocking family secrets.
Where and when: Contemporary Barbados. The action is also partly set in Miami and London.
The Detectives: Susan Berg, owner of the Caribbean Detective Corporation. We first meet her midway from falling from her 11th-floor office into a pool conveniently situated in front of her Miami condo. She is assisted (not always to her advantage) by local CDC operative “Dutch” Holland and his Vietnamese sidekick, Crane Luk – not to mention the enthusiastic and obliging Vicky Godown (yes, really).
Sense of Place: Things start well. In chapter 2 we are given a description of “The dense fields of sugar cane slowly (giving) way to the rows of packed houses and shops on both sides of the H1 highway”. This contrast between old and new is reflected in the author’s description of the way Bridgetown’s historic streets and narrow canal bridges are clogged by the tourists who are regularly disgorged from fleets of visiting cruise ships. But soon he falls into what has been revealed in this project as a common failing: historical and geographical facts presented in a flat travelogue style. We get lots of useful tips about hotels, restaurants and beaches. And I know now that Bridgetown was the only city outside of the United States that was visited by George Washington. When the plot moves to London, there are a few howlers (e.g. – there is no such thing as “the English Government”) while the author’s version of the British class system is clumsy and cliched.
Where next? Belarus was next in The Times atlas index, but a search on the excellent CrimeFictionLover website revealed nothing for there. A general search for Belorussian crime fiction took me to the GoodReads website. It had several books about the country’s tortured 20th-Century history; but while there were novels dealing with life under occupation or paranoid dictatorship, none were crime novels. So reluctantly I moved on to Belgium. I found a review (by MarinaSofia) on CFL of The Midas Murders, by Pieter Aspe, which began promisingly: “If you think Bruges is a picturesque little Belgian city, you are in for a shock.” A quick check established that this was the second novel by Aspe that features Inspector Pieter Van Lin. Thinking it always wise to begin at the beginning, I have chosen the first Van Lin book, The Square of Revenge, for the next World Crime Atlas read.