Grab your geography book and ’fess up that you don’t really know that much about the British colony of Gibraltar, or about the current politics between “The Rock” and its contiguous country, Spain. But Thomas Mogford’s debut crime novel, Shadow of the Rock, sets us straight on all things Gibraltar as he introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a Gibraltarian tax attorney and amateur detective with a strong taste for finding out the truth of a matter.

The attorney’s story takes one exotic turn after another as he travels to the Moroccan city of Tangier, just nine miles away across the Strait of Gibraltar. He’s looking for answers—and a murderer—as his old friend Solomon Hassan sits in a Gibraltar jail, accused of cutting the throat of a Spanish woman, stepdaughter of one of his employers in Tangier. Hassan, presumed guilty, has escaped to Gibraltar, and the authorities in Tangier want him back to stand trial.

This tightly written, highly readable story needs no car chases or special effects to lure readers into an all-night read.

Spike seeks information in Tangier from Hassan’s employers at the mysterious but high-flying renewable energy company Dunetech, poised to extend its multi-national control with an enormous solar energy site under construction in the Sahara. The attorney sets out to untangle the web of deceit and corruption at the energy giant. He also traverses the bars and back alleys of the famous Moroccan city, and travels into the desert with a young Bedouin girl, where he encounters the gleaming solar array, not to mention the ancient Bedouin tradition of Bisha’a (a painful lie detection ritual)—to his extreme discomfort.

Mogford assigns a starring role to the politics and locations of this romantic and captivating region, where the exotic locales are the stuff of old Bogart movies. This tightly written, highly readable story needs no car chases or special effects to lure readers into an all-night read. There’s an appealing cast of characters: Dunetech high mucky-mucks Nadeer Ziyad and Ángel Castillo; robed and turbaned Bedouins; a corrupt Tangier bar owner; and Spike’s inventive hotel neighbor, Jean-Baptiste, with his exquisite knowledge of the highways and backways of Tangier. The intriguing chemistry between Spike and a police officer named Jessica will assure her return in upcoming sequels.

Spike will turn your head in this engrossing new series. Attractively, he seems to be free of the quick-comeback, wise-cracking demeanor that mars so many of today’s fast-track detectives. A follow-up novel, The Sign of the Cross, is in the works.

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