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An Endless Supply of Misfortune: A Spring Betrayal

spring betrayal#A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan

This was one of the rare times I have been bit cheeky and contacted the publisher for an advance review copy as I adored the first in the series and couldn’t wait until the publication date! What follows is my honest review.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev’s Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a lawless post-Soviet metropolis rife with corruption and vice. Several children’s bodies have been found buried together – all tagged with name bands. In his search for the truth behind the brutal killings, Inspector Borubaev has no one to turn to outside his sometime lover, the beautiful undercover Uzbek agent Saltanat Umarova.

A Spring Betrayal is the second book in Tom Callaghan’s Kyrgyz-set crime series. It is quite the action packed police drama in an unfamiliar setting and I enjoyed reading it. I particularly love the setting as it combines untouched natural beauty with drab Soviet poverty.

The disservice Tom Callaghan has created for himself is that his first novel A Killing Winter is so spectacular it would be hard for anyone to surpass, including himself! The first novel provided a laser sharp insight into the social problems that plague Kyrgyzstan and while A Spring Betrayal looks at problems associated with orphanages, international adoption and child exploitation it misses the bullet that made my heart sad in the first novel.

As you can see, I am now starting to write like a melancholic Kyrgyz, just as Callaghan does so well. I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but Callaghan seems to capture the mood of a nation perfectly. His writing is filled with precision and in one turn of phrase he can hauntingly describe an example of child abuse and exploitation that really affects the reader. The author also writes so well that you stop questioning why Borubaev and Saltanat are ‘off the grid’ and on their own mission for so long, the safe houses and weapons stashes as it is full of action and short-ish chapters that often end on a cliffhanger.

In this novel there is more action over social substance and in some ways it is more insular with the intense focus on Borubaev and Saltanat’s hiding and mission. Both of these points indicate to me that the author may have been on more of a timeline and couldn’t distill everything he felt about Kyrgyzstan and its people into this novel. I also felt there were too many references to the first novel and Borubaev’s lamenting for his wife became a little repetitive and shallow towards the end.

As a stand alone novel A Spring Betrayal is great but I couldn’t help comparing it to the earlier novel.

Will I read book 3 in the series? Absolutely. Original, interesting crime.

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Eyes Blurred With Sadness: A Killing Winter

A Killing WinterA Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan

When Inspector Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad arrives at the brutal murder scene of a young woman, all evidence hints at a sadistic serial killer on the hunt for more prey. But when the young woman’s father turns out to be a leading government minister, the pressure is on Borubaev to solve the case not only quickly but also quietly, by any means possible. Until more bodies are found…

First Impressions: I loved Inspector Borubaev’s narrative voice – sceptical, hardened, melancholic and totally believable.

Highlights: There’s a real melancholy tone to this story and I wonder if this is a feature of traditional Kyrgyz literature. That was the thing about this crime novel, it really got me thinking. I know so little about Kyrgyzstan that I spent a while reading up on the country after I finished the last chapter. The social and drug problems sound terrible and it’s interesting that most images on the internet show the idyllic Kyrgyzstan countryside yet this novel paints the cities as languishing in rather bleak post-Soviet poverty.
Usually I would become bored with regular sentimental references to a dying wife but it’s just done beautifully in this novel. Also, the regular references to the krokodil drug from Russia (feed the krokodil, get bitten by the krokodil) added to the bleakness of the setting.

If I was an editor: I really liked Borubaev’s character, particularly as he was so hardened and lacking sympathy for many of the victims of circumstance he came across. I would have liked him to be even more rogue! He knows he’s not someone who can change the world. However, I did wonder if someone who has never left the country would have such a wise perspective yet the whole story was plausible and I enjoyed it. His time AWOL from police HQ can be explained by the fact that due to the corruption cops seem to work on their own watch but I did wonder if the crime was too ‘big’ to be left for Borubaev to solve. It was said that he was the best murder inspector in the country but he just seemed quite ordinary. Luckily the brilliant story overshadowed these concerns!

Overall: A novel that greatly affected me.