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.