Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Spy thriller takes you on wild ride in Sudan

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Legitimate Business
Michael Niemann
218 pages
Coffeetown Press   March 2017
Kindle $6.95, Trade paper $13.33

Legitimate Business is a different type of mystery.  It’s an intriguing spy novel, a thriller loaded with exotic atmosphere and foreign intrigue and a mystery, all in one.

Valentine Vermeulen is a New York-based fraud investigator with the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services. When he’s on vacation in Dusseldorf, Germany he’s reunited with his daughter whom he hasn’t seen in eight years, following his messy divorce.  As soon as he and Gabby patch things up, he’s off to Darfur, Sudan. 

Responding to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the UN Security Council has approved a significant military and police presence. Some 25,000 military and civilian people work for the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  Millions of dollars in supplies and services are required to support the large operation.  Vermeulen’s job, initially, is to examine the books, but it quickly escalates.  

A member of an all-female peace-keeping police unit from Bangladesh is shot and killed.  Is she a random victim of the war that has plagued Sudan, or was she killed because she discovered the kind of criminal scheme Vermeulen is supposed be looking for?

Vermeulen’s life gets worse—as he predicts—when he tries to track down the source of crooked deals that are jeopardizing the UN mission and fattening the wallets of someone. The mystery evolves and unravels at a brisk pace with descriptions that put you in the seat of a four-wheel drive vehicle dashing across the desert as machine guns rattle, lead you down dark Sudanese city streets and surround you with the gloom of a sprawling refugee camp.

Author Niemann knows his subject.  He studied in Europe and the U.S. and has lived in Africa.

“Since the days of British colonial rule, the coast around Port Sudan had been the Red Sea Rivera.  It was still a destination for holiday makers, but the international sanctions had cut down the foreign tourists’ travel.  The once splendid corniche along the water’s edge with its benches, palm trees and open-air restaurants had the dispirited atmosphere of a seaside town in winter.”

Niemann’s crisp and descriptive writing keeps you reading.  He explains a Vermeulen hangover this way:

“His throat was dry and his tongue a dead animal in his mouth.”

Vermeulen is caught in a mortar barrage at an encampment.  A round lands in a latrine near him.

“The stink of shit mixed with the reek of burnt gunpowder.”

When Vermeulen finds himself in the middle of a fire fight:

“Acrid smoke made his eyes tear up, and for a moment the world blurred into an ugly watercolor painting.”

One minor point, but one I’ve seen missed by others, Niemann knows the popular Glock semi-auto lacks a traditional safety. “…Vermeulen pulled the pistol from his pocket.  He remembered that Glocks don’t have safety levers.”  If you write about firearms you need to know how they work.

This fast-moving African adventure is an appealing start to Niemann’s Valentine Vermeulen thriller series.  Illicit Trade is the second in the series.  Start catching up now.  The third novel, Illegal Holdings, debuts next month.

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