"White Crocodile" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Mulholland Books
Written by K.T. Medina
2015, 384 pages, Fiction
Released on June 30th, 2015
Reviewing books you love is easy. Reviewing books you hate is easy. Reviewing books that you thought were great but had a few shortcomings that were important enough to let readers know about them is really difficult. K.T. Medina’s White Crocodile falls into this last category. A suspenseful narrative with outstanding doses of violence and some delightfully creepy moments, this is a novel that fans of great literature should definitely read. However, it’s about 100 pages too long and suffers from that all-too-common malady that is the unnecessary love story.
Tess Hardy suffered through an abusive relationship that cost her a baby. Fortunately, all of that is in her past, until she receives a call from her violent ex-husband. He is in Cambodia working as a mine-clearer, and for the first time ever, he seems really afraid of something. Two weeks later, Tess learns that he's dead. The unexpected death makes her jump on a plane to Cambodia, where she joins a group of mine clearers. While the job itself makes everyone put life and limb on the line daily, things are now worse because everyone has been shaken by the death of Tess’s ex. Soon, their fears escalate because deaths keep happening. Young women go missing and others are found murdered and brutally mutilated around the minefields. Rumors about the White Crocodile, which symbolizes death, abound. Tess doesn’t believe the legend, but the fact remains that bodies are piling up and that recent accident out in the fields don’t look like accidents at all. Tess gets involved so deeply, she could easily be the next victim.
First, let me talk about the plethora of things Medina gets right. For starters, the prose itself is impeccable. This is a debut novel that reads like the latest release from a seasoned veteran. Also, the things the author has done in her real life inform her writing in a wonderful way and nothing seems fake or lacking for research. There are some really creepy moments here that prove when thrillers meet horror, superb things can occur. Furthermore, the author manages to keep readers in place, which is hard to do when most of them (that’s a safe assumption, right?) have not visited Cambodia. From the people to the language and from the country’s dark past thanks to the Khmer Rouge to the rain and the minefields, Medina effectively writes about Cambodia, its mythology, its past, and the role of that recent past on its present.
“Mao’s response was quick and clipped. ‘The White Crocodile is bad omen in Cambodia, this is sure.’ He folded his hands in his lap. ‘Cambodian people place a white cloth with a crocodile drawn on it outside their home when someone in their family dies. This White Crocodile is a sign of death. We call it Tong Kroper — Crocodile Flag.’”
The mystery and the action surrounding the accidents make up most of the novel, but there’s also a lot of unnecessary filler that, more than blame Medina (this is a debut!), I blame on the editor. With 100 pages less, this narrative would’ve been just as entertaining and it would’ve moved at a much more enjoyable pace. The problem, more than the romance angle that felt tagged on, is the excessive description. There are short descriptive passages that show what Medina can do. These are especially great when she’s dealing with the killing out in the fields or in the action scenes where the mine-clearers are working on a bomb that could kill them. However, there are also spots where one has to wonder if what’s being read contributes anything to the narrative. Here’s an example of a scene where the tension is great, and then you get this:
Tess is about to get caught and she has to hurry. Describing a cough and explaining a typo add nothing to the sense of urgency. A good editor would have realized that and gotten rid of the extra fat there and in other places. Likewise, after dealing with so much death, suffering, childhood trauma, abuse, unethical practices, and mutilation, it seems that the author wanted to close on a positive note. Instead of adding to the novel, the ending, which was a bit predictable and I won’t give away here, detracts a bit from everything that preceded it.
The best thing about White Crocodile is that the good outweighs the bad. The narrative is interesting, different, and brings to live a place and characters that are rarely seen in big crime fiction releases. So, if you can deal with less than stellar pacing, definitely give this one a try.
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