Moroccan Crime: Whitefly by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Lately, there has been a flurry of enticing crime fiction reviews on the blogs I read regularly. They put me in the mood for crime fiction, so I picked up Whitefly. Everyone seems to like crime fiction from northern Europe, so why not read crime fiction from Morocco? Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Well, maybe I should have stayed with something from further north. This one didn’t do it for me. It’s not that this is a bad book. It’s fairly well written, and it was a quick read. I learned a few new things about Morocco. But overall, there wasn’t much depth to the story.

It begins when a fourth corpse in three days washes up in Tangier. Unlike the previous three, this corpse comes with bullet holes. This confirms Detective Laafrit’s hunch that the victims weren’t just men trying to get to Spain and drowning in the process. The bullet holes are a red flag because apparently, guns are very, very rare in Morocco, and the police’s reasoning is that if they find the gun used to murder corpse #4, then they can solve the case. I found this a bit incredulous, so looked up “gun laws in Morocco” to confirm that yes, indeed, only police and military can own handguns. Kudos to the Moroccan police for enforcing this law, because there really is only one gun around—which Laafrit finds rather quickly because the gun owner’s “girlfriend” conveniently got drunk and waved it in the face of her true love when the gun owner was away for a night.

But things take a different turn when Laafrit finds out that the four victims were all from the same village and had all left (successfully) for Spain a few years ago. Somehow, bullet-hole victim had gotten papers to make him legal in Spain, meaning he could easily come to Morocco to visit. And visit he did quite frequently, only he didn’t visit with his new wife, but rather drove all over Morocco on mysterious trips that he didn’t explain to anyone. And now it just so happens that the tomato crops in all the areas he visited have been ruined by an inexplicable virus. It also just so happens that the employer of bullet-hole victim, the one who made him legal, is the largest tomato farmer in southern Spain. Laafrit gets a hunch that it might not be the gun that is the center of the case, it might be the tomato!

Actually, this story is not as silly as I might make it sound here. The unusual setting makes it quite interesting. I think the biggest problem of the book is that it is so short. At 144 pages, it is a quick read, but it is hardly enough space to properly set up the scene and solve a crime. It is definitely not enough space to also introduce and develop the character of Detective Laafrit, who, in addition to being the best detective in Tangier, is married to a good woman who was tortured when they were both university students and has a soft spot for women with abusive (ex-)husbands. While interesting, these details are unnecessary when there is hardly enough time to show what exactly makes Laafrit a successful detective. As is, he very conveniently knows police officers all over Morocco and Spain. Not that there’s anything wrong or unrealistic with that; it just seems like a very easy way to drive the action forward. I like to see the reasoning behind a person’s action, the logic that helps a detective solve a crime. Here, there are mostly phone calls with just the right information at the right time to help Laafrit along.

Finally, there is one twist towards the end that seemed to me to be a very amateurish mistake for a detective with Laafrit’s experience. If you are dealing with drug dealers and human traffickers and you have a hunch that there is a vast international agricultural conspiracy going on, would you trust a person you have known for only a few hours? Wouldn’t you be just a little more careful?

So this one wasn’t exactly what I needed to fill my hankering for crime fiction. I will go with something firmly recommended by a trusted source next time. In the meantime, tell me about a for you unusual setting of a (crime) novel you have read.

 

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15 comments

  1. My two good friends just left last weekend for a trip to Morocco and then Egypt, and good gravy are the photos they post on Facebook absolutely STUNNING. If I remember correctly, a lot of Europeans go to Morocco because it’s just across the way from Spain.

  2. I just went through my mystery shelf on Goodreads, and man, is my mystery reading boring! All America and the UK! I mean, that’s my sweet spot, but clearly I have to do some exploring in this genre. I think my most “unusual” setting was Alaska – Michael Chabon’s delightful literary mystery The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

  3. I don’t read enough crime novels to be able to come up with an unusual setting for you. I don’t blame you for wanting to give this one a try, though – the premise sounds good and the setting a little different. However, now that you’ve read it for me, this isn’t the one I will go for when I find myself in the mood for crime. 🙂

  4. I’m trying to remember my last crime novel: I think it was The Dry by Jane Harper which takes place in Australia. It’s pretty decent.

  5. Pity this one didn’t do it for you! I tend to be pretty insular in my crime reading – about 90% is set in Britain. But I have a soft spot for Japanese crime – Confessions by Kanae Minato is a particularly intriguing one. And I recently loved one set in Calcutta just after WW1 – A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. And then there was the weird but wonderful The Shapeshifters by Stefan Spjut – set in modern day Sweden, but a Sweden where trolls exist… yeah, I know, but trust me, it’s great! 😉

  6. What a pity this book didn’t hit the spot for you. I do like a good crime novel with a strong sense of place – it’s often a good way to get a feel for the social (or political) environment in the locality. Most of the crime novels I’ve been reading lately have been set in the US, typically California, a place that hold an endless fascination for me!

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