Cambodia · review

White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

white crocodileWhite Crocodile by K.T. Medina

Mulholland Books, June 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

White Crocodile is one of my favorite books of the year, even though once I start writing this review it doesn’t sound like something I’d love.* Tess Hardy is a mine clearer who moves to Cambodia to work for the non-profit Mine Clearance Trust after several stints in the military. She starts to investigate a series of mysterious deaths that are not the accidents they seem to be, and in the meantime Medina covers Hardy and her colleague’s troubled backgrounds. Balanced with those stories are several detailed scenes about the logistics of mine-clearing and scenes from Battabang, a bustling city, and a rural village on the outskirts.

The story works because of Tess’s outsider perspective standing in for my own. I learned quite a bit about the complicated nature of NGOs working in Cambodia, and along the way there was a good plot. It wasn’t the most twisty thriller I’ve read, but it moved along.  This novel is much darker and much more troubling than what I can read regularly: the characters all have bleak lives to varying degrees.  But the writing is good, the characters almost entirely are complicated beings, and the pacing is superb.

I’m always glad to be surprised by a book that doesn’t seem to fit my reading interests. I was hesitant to read White Crocodile because I thought it would be too horrific, but I was incredibly impressed. A year ago I didn’t think I’d like the vaguely-fantastic Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, and two years ago I didn’t expect to love the old protagonist of Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller, and both of those were some of my favorites of their respective years.

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9 thoughts on “White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

  1. I was / am interested in this because of the setting, and it gets very good reviews, even though it seems so bleak and unhappy. I will get to reading it eventually but maybe not in a rush.

  2. I can’t get into this book. I’ve read or skimmed about 30 pages and it’s not resonating with me. I like character development, characters I can like to get into a book. But this isn’t happening here.
    I’ll try again at some point.

    And, referring to two favorites of yours, I loved Norwegian by Night. Was a favorite the year I read it. Sheldon Horowitz is quite a guy. The Jewish humor and tone got to me since I had Jewish immigrant grandparents and relatives and the author got it all right.

    1. It’s funny just how specific anyone’s reading tastes are. Certain characters/narrators are not my thing either. Hope you find something that’s more your style soon, Kathy.

  3. I really liked this one too Rebecca – although the subject matter is utterly wretched and dark.. Given that I also enjoyed Norwegian By Night I can only imagine I’ll enjoy the other book you’ve mentioned – which I haven’t seen out here yet but will go looking for it now.

    1. Hope you enjoy it, Bernadette. BTW, I enjoyed your mini-reviews/ notes on books. It takes awhile for all the Petrona nominees to be be easily available here, so I figure I can post a meaningful comparison of them in about a year 🙂

  4. I do like the two books by English author, Eva Dolan, a new and very competent crime fiction writer, who has a strong sense of social justice — or injustice, as the case may be. Long Way Home is about the exploitation of migrant laborers in England and Don’t Tell Tales is about rightwing, xenophobic violence against immigrants.
    Both stories told well with character development, especially about the Serbian and Portuguese detectives. Excellent on all counts.

    1. I’m sold: I will have to check out Dolan soon! I hope you continue to find good reads over the summer, Kathy. If I can get away for another weekend soon, I may be able to catch up on my reading.

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