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  • Rosie McCann

A Crime in the Land of 7000 Islands: A review

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Rating: **

I didn’t enjoy reading A Crime in the Land Of 7000 Islands, although I did get the point of it. More of a fantastical mystery than a thriller, this multi-genre book follows a special agent of the FBI as she travels overseas to the Philippines to bring the horrific crimes of a paedophilic sex tourist to justice. Written by Zephaniah Sole, a member of the FBI himself, I felt sceptical about the bias that this would bring to the narrative — one which historically doesn’t get brought to justice and can even be disregarded. What I can say about this book is that, amidst endless police violence and sexual assault scandals in recent years in both the US and the UK, these dark and heavy topics were dealt with in a sensitive and considered approach. The author utilises his deep understanding of the professional approach to handling sexual assault cases to his advantage. The factual elements of the FBI procedure serve as a cohesive thread, holding together the fragmented plot that crosses various genres and time periods.

Narratives from multiple perspectives in both the past and the present make up this story. Each different voice uses a separate style of storytelling, which was hard to get used to and, I thought, broke the flow of the plot by dissipating any tension which was built up. As a result, it was hard to get into and slow-paced, which isn’t what I’d expect from a ‘thriller’. The most dominant narrative in the book takes the form of a folktale which was told as an intense bed-time story full of action movie tropes from the mother/special agent, Ikigai, to her daughter, Ikigai Junior. The subject of a crime case involving sexual assault, rape and paedophilia are translated into a fable made suitable for a child. Although the use of allegory was central to Ikigai’s narrative, I couldn’t get behind it. The over-extended metaphors and sometimes clumsy similes held me back. Boats and planes are anthropomorphised, police officers are referred to as ‘warriors’, and FBI tech is replaced by the appearance of the Hindu demi-god, Garuda, in a dramatic fantasy rendition of Ikigai’s experiences which is even referred to in the text as Disney movie-like. I hesitated to get along with the exaggeration of the story which made it difficult to tell fact from fiction. Also, the indirect allusions to the sexual crimes, which were instead replaced by the idea of ‘taking away innocence’, were irritating as it seemed archaic and dismissive of the level of the atrocities committed, feeding into the public shaming which surrounds both the victims and, on a wider scale, the notion of virginity.

This story explores various narratives which relate to sexual assault and the plot is later linked to a complicated and difficult family history which delves into transgenerational trauma. Set mostly in the Philippines, it emphasises the lengths that criminals will go to get away with their crimes exploiting minors and the justice system, however, this story is also bought closer to home for the main characters. Alongside Ikigai’s version of events we hear from her daughter, both as an 11-year-old child and in the present, who despite (also) feeling frustrated at her mother’s storytelling, gradually comes to terms with it and appreciates her careful intentions as blocked childhood memories return to her. We also hear from Ikigai’s colleagues working alongside her back in the US and then one of them, Geri, again in the present. An omniscient narrator also appears at intervals to give summaries of the recent events in simpler terms and keeps the winding story on track. The characters’ relationships with friends, family and romantic encounters are explored alongside the plot and eventually become intertwined with it. Despite the horrific nature of the crimes investigated in this novel, it manages to project a hopeful positivity which I wasn’t expecting, and which is lacking from the reality of the justice system in relation to sexual assault cases. The character development and coming-of-age twist balances out the monstrosity of the crime case and the novel as a whole .

This book was not like anything I’ve read before. Although the inclusion of other genres offered an alternative approach to the classic crime novel, the structure was too sporadic, and the writing style was difficult to follow, resulting in a less than enjoyable read. The ending is not necessarily a happy one, but it hints at a sequel continuing to follow the life of Ikigai fighting crime which, considering my issues with the author’s style, I don’t think I’m going to read.

Writer's bio:

Rosie (she/her) is currently in her final year studying French and Art History and spends most of her reading. Recently she has started to write some reviews about the books she has read and about her other interests too.

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