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Novel set in Battambang, Cambodia (mine all mine…)

3rd June 2015

White Crocodile by K T Medina, novel set in Battambang, Cambodia (and Manchester).

IMG_0938White Crocodile is a tense, page-turning, and extremely well written debut thriller from K T Medina. It is set primarily in Battambang (North Western Cambodia, near the Thai border…), with flashes to Manchester. Battambang, now ‘in real life’ an attractive and significantly tourist town with French colonial architecture, was one of the centres of fighting during the time of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The area around the town features well marked mine fields – and tourists nowadays are instructed not to wander off clearly defined paths… The problem, of course, is much more serious for Cambodians than it is for tourists – whole swathes of what was prime agricultural land are still off limits and deprivation and hunger are the norm for many across the country. Mine clearing charities are in operation, and the story centres around one of these.

Luke, from England, leaves his estranged wife Tess behind (she left him because of domestic violence – sensitively portrayed) and heads off to work for MCT – Mine Clearance Trust. Tess is told he has been killed, and travels to Cambodia to try and establish what actually happened. The White Crocodile is a character from ancient mythology foretelling death – still believed in by many Cambodians today. There is a series of abductions and murders in the minefield where MCT is working – and the White Crocodile is blamed by the Cambodians workers, and also by some of the Westerners. Fear is rampant.

At the same time, and in parallel chapters, Manchester detectives are investigating the murder of a Cambodian girl and the trafficking of others into the sex trade in the area. Not surprisingly the two stories come together…The denouement is thrilling and well worked.

White Crocodile works particularly well because of the experience of K T Medina, and her ability to describe so convincingly the horror of mines and the damage they can do to the human body. One especially poignant piece describes how a young girl is lured into picking up a ‘butterfly mine’ – so called because of its irresistibly pretty colours that lead to carnage when disturbed. Medina’s ability comes from real life – she spent time as a Troop Commander in a TA regiment of the Royal Engineers, and then worked as a Managing Editor at Jane’s Information Group. Part of her role at Jane’s involved being with mine clearing groups in both the Middle East and Battambang where she advised on helping deal with complex mines. The authenticity comes shining through… it is insightful but rarely sentimental.

Many ’causes’ are covered in White Crocodile. I’ve already mentioned domestic violence, and how accurate those descriptions are (my counsellor friends tell me..). But there is also the largely ignored plight of many Cambodians, and the issue of sex trafficking. Plus one of the key characters is a Croatian who suffered greatly in the war with Serbia, and still carries the mental wounds. But – and it’s very clever the way Medina handles this – you do not feel you are being preached at in any way. Above all else White Crocodile is a great and exciting ‘whodunit’.

Well worth reading.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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