Book Review: Machete by Nick Brownlee

Nick Brownlee
Piatkus, 2010
ISBN #978-0-7499-4256-4
Trade Paperback

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

As this book opens, it is Christmas morning in Mombasa, and a nine-year-old boy opens a box he finds under his tree, only to discover to his [and the reader’s horror] that it contains the severed head of his stepfather.  This is the third of four decapitations discovered within several days of each other, each with seemingly no connection to the others, and each universally liked and respected and thought to have no enemies.  The last of the four is the leading circuit judge of the Coast Province.  The weapon used is determined to be the eponymous one of the title.  The media, who delight in such things, dub the killer The Headhunter.  Lest things become dull, soon a new and different series of attacks begins, this one being called by the media the work of The Shanzu Shmasher..

This is the third in the series which introduced readers to Mombasa Detective Inspector Daniel Jouma of the Coast Province CID.  The diminutive [5′ 5″] Jouma finds himself completely stumped; no commonality seems to exist among the victims in either series of attacks.  He thinks “People were unknowable, their motives a mystery. After thirty years as a policeman he thought he’d understood that by now – but every day he discovered that in fact he didn’t have a clue. He just bumbled along making assumptions until the truth came up and smacked him in the face.”

The other protagonist is Jake Moore, 35-year-old ex-Scotland Yard cop who for the last five years has skippered and co-owned a game fishing boat.  Having left England after having been shot and seriously wounded, he had come to Kenya, as he says, “for the quiet life,” except that’s not the way it turned out.  At the conclusion of the second book in the series, Burn (aka Blood and Fire in the US), he barely survived an assassin’s knife, and has now just been released from the hospital after spending “six weeks at death’s door” and undergoing 16 hours of surgery, his heart having stopped four times in the process.  Although both men become involved in the search for The Headhunter, they don’t even get together until two-thirds of the way through the book.  As Jake describes it, “Jouma and I run into each other occasionally.  Normally all hell breaks loose when we do, so we try to keep out of each other’s way as much as possible.”  And indeed, when they do get together this time, that is precisely what happens as they search for the machete-wielding serial killer.

And just when you think all is resolved and the author is done with you – rest assured that he is not!  [The fourth book in the series, Snakepit, is due out from Piatkus in the UK in July of 2011, something to which this terrific author’s fans, among whom I count myself, can look forward.]   Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.