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Robert Knott is a lower level diplomat assigned --- contrary to preference --- to the American embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, “a place so foreign to you that everything seems like dark magic.” Knott acknowledges that he has “few friends of any description. Even those I have don’t like me.” The reformed alcoholic and unreformed gambler, who has a humor dry as Madagascar’s Spiny Desert, brought this imbroglio of gambling debts upon himself.

Knott occasionally phones his estranged teen daughter in the States, who often cuts the calls short, shuffling them off to the ex. His addictive personality exchanged alcohol for the Zebu Room’s gaming tables. He is on a downward roulette spiral and owes casino owner Maurice Picard an insurmountable sum. Picard is an inveterate opportunist turning the gaming tables on Knott, who for Picard must now launder money through the embassy. “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly.”

"Following his debut, TANGIER, mystical Madagascar comes to life in Stephen Holgate’s thoroughly satisfying thriller."

Picard has plans for Knott, other than acquiring enough hard currency to retire to Paris. Knott is drawn into a web of deceit, encountering nefarious warlords. Uprisings and guerrilla warfare compound “the bureaucratic tangle” between citizenry and the American embassy staff. “When it all goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly.”

Knott encounters falsely imprisoned American Walt Sackett, who uses the stunning Nirina to attempt to get him out of a pigsty prison. Nirina, in turn, hopes that Walt will help her escape the quagmire known as Madagascar. Knott spins the roulette wheel of fortune one last time, blustering a corrupt official. “He sees my bluff for what it is, an act of defiance about as empty as a chicken flipping off the fox as it comes in for the kill.”

However, Knott does find redemption, through aiding others, and love. Nirina tells Knott that he is “full of love. For your daughter. For Walt. For Samuel the driver. For Miss Gloria.” He reminds himself “that, in Madagascar, the implausible isn’t just possible, it’s mandatory.”

He realizes that “I’ve resisted Madagascar at every turn, cursed it, despised it, never understanding I was really cursing and despising myself. I need to reconcile myself to my own life.”

More than a mystery/thriller, MADAGASCAR verges on literary fiction. Following his debut, TANGIER, mystical Madagascar comes to life in Stephen Holgate’s thoroughly satisfying thriller.

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on June 1, 2018

by Stephen Holgate

  • Publication Date: May 29, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Blank Slate Press
  • ISBN-10: 1943075484
  • ISBN-13: 9781943075485