There was a period in my life in the early to mid 80s when I read everything the thriller writer Robert Ludlum published. At the time I was working in a hotel in north Dublin, and I spent a lot of shifts manning the phones at reception. By this point I hadn’t yet read any of the Jason Bourne trilogy, but my manager put me wide straight away. They still hold a place of fondness in my list of favourite books, and after Ludlum passed away, I couldn’t read any of the other books published by permission of his estate. I hear Eric van Lustbader did a great job, but I was finished with literary Jason Bourne once The Bourne Ultimatum was published. I remain a big fan of the Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass movies, though.
That said, I remained on the lookout for books of a similar type, and through NetGalley I found Blue Madagascar by New York Times bestselling author Andrew Kaplan. Kaplan is the author of Homeland: Carrie’s Game, the official prequel to the award-winning television show, and followed this up with a novel that focused on another of Homeland’s main characters, Saul Berenon. This book, Saul’s Game, went on to win the Scribe Best Novel of the Year. Kaplan is also the author of the Scorpion series of thriller novels as well as a bunch of stand-alone books. But what caught my eye about Blue Madagascar was how its plot brought me back to those halcyon days of Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, and John le Carre. The story takes its characters and readers on a whistlestop tour through some of the most picaresque and dangerous locations in the world.
The plot’s cold open is tight, effective, and shocking. It’s mere days away from the presidential election and the apparent front-runner, by a county mile, is dead, allegedly by his own hand. The political process is thrown into disarray, and there are reports of an unknown woman who may or may not be responsible for the man’s death. We won’t know this for a while because the story then moves back in time to a heist gone wrong in Nice on the south coast of France. A previously well-planned robbery of a jewellery store ends up with an innocent American tourist dead, and his companion, inexplicably, escaping with the robbers. French investigators realise that the dead man has lived under a false identity and their attempts to gain assistance from U.S. authorities have mixed results at best. But the Department of Homeland Security sends one of their agents, Casey Ramirez, to help and hinder the investigation.
Casey is a fascinating character. Shunted into the foster care system due to her mother being a constant jailbird and liaising with men who abused both Casey and her sister, Casey’s talents and fearlessness gets the attention of the DHS, and she becomes one of their best investigators. Haunted by the memory of her sister, missing for many years, Casey hopes that one day her career will give her the answers she so desperately needs. In the meantime, she has a mission to find out who this dead American is, and pretty soon she’s following a trail of bodies that takes her to places and people that are more dangerous than she could have imagined. Behind it all is the secret of Blue Madagascar. What is it, and why did it make a seemingly innocent witness to murder join up with a gang of thieves?
And the most important question, perhaps, what does it have to do with the apparent suicide of a presidential election candidate?
There was a lot for me to sink my reader’s teeth into with Blue Madagascar. I enjoyed the thrill of the ride, the constant intrigue, the twists, and the number of times Casey needs to escape from almost certain death. The villains of the piece — for there are many — have their own agendas, often clashing with each other for personal reasons. This book has the lot: car chases, family secrets, bosses who Casey doesn’t trust a lot of the time, and a pervading sense of menace and deadly threats. Supporting characters remain important to the book, and it’s not just a cat-and-mouse story. At the heart of Blue Madagascar is a woman who only wants to know if her sister is alive. By the end of the book, we might get an answer to this question. And a possible sequel.