The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham
If I had not stuck Tana French‘s Dublin Murder Squad thrillers in my ears, I might never have discovered Australian journalist-turned-bestselling novelist Michael Robotham – French’s The Likeness (I think) ended with the ‘if you liked x, then try y‘-recommendation that led me to Night Ferry.
Contrarian that I am, however, of course I have a quibble. Like French, Robotham elevates his latest protagonist from a less-than-starring role from his book before – love that clever narrative domino! While each book is also a standalone title, carryover details always enhance the reading experience. Night Ferry is #3 in Robotham’s dark oeuvre, which means his leading lady here, Alisha Barbar, had a supporting role in #2, Lost, whose protagonist Vincent Ruiz appeared first in Robotham’s debut, Shattered, which stars Robotham’s most popular leading man, Joseph O’Loughlin. Got all that? All that means is that if you’re new to Robotham’s thrillers (he has eight out already!), best to start at the beginning: Shattered. I’ll be reading backwards myself.
Okay, so introductory digression aside, meet Ali Barbar, a British detective of Indian Sikh heritage. A former competitive runner who almost made it to the Olympics, Ali has just recently returned to her job at London’s Metropolitan Police a year after a horrific accident: she helped solve a kidnapping case that left her spine crushed, and defied all her doctors to make a fully mobile recovery.
After eight years of silence, Ali receives a terrified note from her childhood best friend begging for Ali’s help. When Ali next meets Cate at a school reunion, Cate – visibly pregnant – manages to blurt out, “‘They want to take my baby. They can’t. You have to stop them.'” That evening as they leave the reunion, Cate and her husband are fatally wounded, and Ali is left to piece together what happened.
At over 500 pages (or more than 12 hours stuck in the ears – narrator Clare Corbett is chillingly controlled), the plot will twist and turn plenty before Ali unravels the knotted strands around a fake pregnancy, illegal immigration, desperate refugees, school violence, virgin mothers, evil fathers, wayward heroes, while criss-crossing through Britain, the Netherlands, and Afghanistan.
Perhaps the one character detail that doesn’t quite keep up the pace is Ali’s Indian Sikh heritage. Her ethnicity seems superficial, occasionally clumsy, providing at best an opportunity to give her stereotypical Asian parents, especially her dotingly demanding mother determined to marry off her still-single daughter. The eligible doctor planted at a family gathering in order to meet Ali proves to be useful enough to the plot, although again, the mother-daughter-doctor could have been of any background. Ironically, that the protagonist is British Sikh was exactly what made me choose the title. As unfulfilling as that detail proves to be, the rest of the engaging narrative builds swift momentum you won’t want to miss.
Published: 2007 (United States)