(35. – 922.) Legitimate Business by Michael Niemann – An opening to remember:
There is no rush hour in a refugee camp. No jobs to get to, no appointments to keep. Just waiting. Waiting to go home. The Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons, some ten miles south of El Fasher in Darfur, Sudan, was no different. The closest Zam Zam got to a rush hour was when the food aid arrived.
Then a sniper, Garreth Campbell, shoots an elder, a female police woman from Bangladesh and a young woman. He calmly drives away.
At the same time, the spring of 2010, in Dusseldorf Valentin Vermeulen, an investigator for the OIOS (United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services) is completing a short vacation. He checks for fraud in U.N. operations around the world. Having stirred up the bureaucracy in New York by reporing on possible fraud by the son of the Secretary General he has been designated to travel to the distant missions of the U.N. as far from New York as possible. While exiled he remains stubbornly resolute in pursuing fraud.
Before leaving Dusseldorf he has a difficult conversation with his daughter, Gaby. He has not seen her in 8 years and is attempting a reconciliation. His marriage had broken down and Gaby did not handle it well. She ended up using heroin, and he, after tracking her down, forced Gaby into rehab. He eventually left Belgium for the U.N.
Back in South Sudan, Priya Choudhury is intent on investigating the murder of her friend Ritu Roy. They were members of a 140 woman detachment of Bangladeshi policewomen sent to Zam Zam.
Shortly after the killings Vermeulen arrives in Darfur to conduct an audit of the United Nations/African Union Mission (UNAMID).
His aide, Winston Wambai, is a member of the Kenyan military peacekeeprs.
Legitmate Business has such a promising start. There are challenging issues with regard to refugees and war in the region. Niemann starts exploring the frustrations of the U.N. personnel in a war zone where they are barely tolerated. Yet he does not make the conflict as simple as Arabs v. Africans.
Unfortunately the plot then starts descending into an average thriller with a trip to a camp of one of the warring factions. Vermeulen and Choudhury want to interview Amina, a young girl who saw the shooter. Unwanted and univited at the camp the journey stretches credibility as they demand of the commander that they be able to talk to her.
Later there are a series of hair breadth escapes that are the staple of modern thrillers.
Legitmate Business is a competent thriller I lament that it could have been much more. A book in the mode of John Le Carre was within Niemann’s grasp. I thought of The Night Manager where a principled young man takes on an international arms dealer. There is also shifty arms dealing in Legitimate Business.
Unlike The Night Manager the bad guys are purely evil in Legitimate Business.
Niemann has the knowledge and imagination to have avoided thriller violence to solve the mystery. Instead, he chose the approach of Indiana Jones. Vermeulen is an intelligent hero who was limited to being an action hero.
What did surprise me was an ending that was a return to real world reality. The beginning and the end showed what Niemann is capable of writing.
If you love the current Hollywood approach to thrillers you will enjoy Legitimate Business. I hope Niemann’s next book pursues issues through the book as well as thrills.