I am not particularly passionate about crime fiction, but reading Tracy Gilpin's debut novel Double Cross was a wonderful experience. It not only has all the ingredients one expects of the genre but also a few extras which make it an especially rewarding read. Fast-paced, suspenseful, full of intrigues, and led by a fascinating heroine attempting to solve a mysterious murder, Double Cross is a true page-turner, written in a prose full of wit and a keen awareness of place. It is also a novel which should intrigue environmentalists and gender activists as it unobtrusively interweaves concerns of interest to both groups into its plot in a way that is both intelligent and thought-provoking. Additionally, Double Cross takes up a moral dilemma which South African readers in particular will be familiar with – how far should one be prepared to go in the fight for a just cause – and places it into a universal context which affects us all.
Set in Cape Town, Double Cross opens on the day its protagonist, Dunai Marks, discovers her boss and mentor, Siobhan Craig, murdered in her office. A social activist, Siobhan was the founder and head of STOP, Strategies of Targeting Over-Population. The police want to believe that her death was a result of a botched burglary. But Dunai accidentally witnesses a conversation between the investigating police officer and a man from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and begins to suspect that much more is at stake. While she is trying to come to terms with the terrible loss, Dunai makes a promise to her murdered friend that she will find the person responsible for her death and bring them to justice.
To fulfil her promise, Dunai approaches a private detective, Carl Lambrecht, for help. As they begin their investigation, Dunai gradually discovers that Siobhan had many secrets which she would rather have not known. By digging deeper into the life of a woman she thought she knew and for whom she felt much affection, Dunai has to examine her own priorities and face a truth about her own life which will change her forever.
She also discovers that she is not the only one searching for Siobhan's murderer. A series of strange coincidences and encounters make her realise that her life, and possible the life of her little son Jesse, might be in danger. Through her investigation she finds herself at the centre of a web of intrigues in which the players include a gangster who will not hesitate to kill his own family members to achieve his goals, a desperate religious group leader with a murky past, a sexual offender in a high position, and a powerful secretive organisation which has the potential to change the world.
The more Dunai finds out, the more difficult it becomes for her to trust even the people closest to her. When she is invited to join the ancient secretive organisation which is working towards a worldwide revolution, and the NIA begins to pressure her into cooperation, Dunai has some tough choices to make and nobody to rely on for advice but herself and the principles by which she is determined to live her life.
Double Cross is an empowering and cathartic novel as it takes the reader on a moral and ethical journey which is worth travelling.
by Tracy Gilpin
Black Star Crime, 2008