Vince is an accomplished liar and undercover Special Branch agent. Truth, for him, is the story we tell. Sworn to his country, committed to his work, he takes on a new mission – masquerading as an Islamic convert to infiltrate a British Jihadi group. There, he meets the beautiful sister of the leaders and soon becomes entangled in a way he never thought possible and which threatens his grip on reality. As reality weakens with each story about Moorish Spain Vince spins to seduce Ayesha, the more the fictional world blends into his world. But which will he choose: a duty that strengthens barriers or a love that breaks them?
Our narrator Vince/Zami tells us straightaway that he lies, and he’s good at it. From the outset this is a novel that is ambitious, linking a present day thriller about an undercover cop infiltrating a Islamic terrorist cell with mystical tales from the past and imagined legends and stories. Before reading, I was drawn to the thriller element of the novel (my kind of book), less so towards the mystical tale and time hopping. There were times when reading when I felt the detours into the past and imagined stories were getting in the way of a right good thriller, and I won’t pretend to know exactly how some of the pieces all tied together. Similarly, I won’t lie – I feel like I perhaps missed the point trying to be made about time and lies and stories and how they all conflate or interact. Perhaps a second reading is in order, which is no bad thing because overall, this book was an extraordinary delight to read.
What makes this book so good is the author’s grip of his material. Not only is the writing extremely good, but MacDonald has clearly plotted and planned and researched everything and has crafted his novel with great care and attention to detail. The language and descriptions are a delight, with several images that linger after reading. The characters are believable, and despite Vince/Zami’s acknowledgement of lies and his subterfuge, I was rooting for him in the end. Ayesha, the sister of brothers whom Vince is investigating and who Vince starts an affair with, is a strong female Muslim character, and provides a moral certainty at the heart of the book, in contrast to Vince. She is perhaps the true hero here.
Morally and narratively complex, this is unlike few books I have read before. There is still room for a ‘straight’ thriller about the murky world of undercover cops, but I doubt such a book would explore that world in such a clever way as this does.
One of the best novels by an independent author I have read. The writing is exquisite and while the complex non-linear plot may not be to everyone’s taste, I would highly recommend giving it a go. You will not be disappointed.
You can learn more about author Neil MacDonald, and his writing, on his blog:
Neil MacDonald Author: A Writer’s Journey.
‘The Tears of Boabdil’ is available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and from several other retailers: Amazon.co.uk: The Tears of Boabdil.
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