Reviewed by Craig Hayes II
by Andrew Kaplan
Smugglers Lane Press
June 16, 2021, Paperback, 424 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1736809914
Blue Madagascar is a joyride with enough twists to keep you guessing till the very last chapter. Kaplan’s mystery is crafted with a sizeable amount of complexity, proving his talent, and enough authorial guidance to make the text easily accessible to any reader. It is a novel that never slows, yet never sacrifices detail. From front to back, this novel succeeded in stealing my focus. I simply had to
know where Kaplan would take me.
Blue Madagascar is a white-collar crime thriller/mystery that intermingles politics, international defense agencies (i.e. FBI, CIA, etc), and sinners with the money and influence to hide their secrets. It follows a set of protagonists: Casey, a U.S. Homeland Security Special Agent, Vincent, a seasoned criminal, and Brochard, a French prosecutor, and investigator, all of whom find themselves knee-deep in an international, political treasure hunt. The treasure being information. And this information, if put in the wrong hands, could have chasmic repercussions across America. Of course, every party, from the U.S. to Russia and Europe, is chomping at the bit. The author sticks close to the tried and true bones of a fiction mystery, giving off a predictable plot at first glance, but it is this very framework that throws the reader off of its trail. That being said, Kaplan does nearly everything right, starting with setting and environment.
Even from the first several chapters, it is obvious the author researched thoroughly, experiencing and collecting information about the world in which he places his characters. Each scene is deeply grounded in today’s world, in that (if you have traveled to places such as Paris) you would know exactly where his characters were. He shifts the pieces on the chessboard constantly, but never loses a handle on scenery. Kaplan shows so much attention to and care for detail, efficiently providing high definition descriptions for each character, to the extent that the reader garners a keen sense of how Kaplan’s characters experienced events and environments.
Another standout feature, one that truly allows the author to deliver an intriguing narrative, keeping every secret and twist under lock and key, is his timing. As you know, timing is everything. A detail revealed too soon can ruin shock value, just as intense vagueness and lack of surrounding substance can undermine the mystery, losing the reader’s attention and desire to see the story through.
Kaplan uses time in an enjoyable fashion. His success is twofold: first, he throws his readers off the trail completely in the prologue (which is actually, chronologically, an epilogue). The prologue is explosive, followed by a lower-stakes start to the novel. But the prologue has no bearing on the novel (yes, the entire novel), until the very (and I mean very) end. Until this final reveal, the prologue is like bait hanging over the reader’s head. This makes for an exciting read as you wonder why, when, and how the climax/resolution will take place. Second, Kaplan never allows the forward flow of time to stop between segments. Each chapter follows a different protagonist, but the story flows in real-time as if you are watching three different movies about the same event. It makes for an exciting web of cat-and-mouse, each protagonist becoming an obstacle for the other.
Kaplan maneuvers his cast of characters tactfully from front to end without losing grip of the sequencing, motive, or intrigue. I particularly loved that the author did not overload the plot or reader by extensively exploring the deep crevices of each character’s being. Kaplan is ruthlessly efficient with his cast and the personal time they occupy within the narrative, his ultimate aim being to push forward the plot. Take Brochard, a standout character in Blue Madagascar. He, similarly to other protagonists, is unwittingly thrown headfirst into a wild goose chase and, due to chance, his relationship with his family is nearly shattered. He is a man that has the looks, the money, the influence, and the ethics, but can barely hold on to what he loves most. And though he was wronged (oh, is he messed over by his wife!), his sole motivation is to not lose his family completely. He is a tragic, and a sort of hopeless, character whom Kaplan conveys in a concise and impressionable manner.
There is some conflict regarding Kaplan’s handling of female characters. Most female characters in Blue Madagascar are victims of objectification, sexualization, cruelty, (as do most YA novels) the romance plot. I say this carefully because, once again, Kaplan handles his entire body of work skillfully. As I was immersed in the world of Blue Madagascar, I questioned whether writing female characters, regardless of prevalence, as the perpetual victims of their male counterparts is an issue. Is this world that Kaplan has created, a world, heavily mirroring our own, that is grim, gritty, and disgusting, to be held responsible for its treatment of the female body? Perhaps, the reason I wrestle with this is that it is uncanny and unnervingly familiar to reality, hence Kaplan makes the reader uncomfortable. But maybe he aims to do so? Though I wrestled with this aspect of the book, Kaplan still exceeded my expectations. The revelation of the “treasure” was amazing. Part of me expected an “Indiana Jones” level of revelation, where the world’s top leaders had partaken in a demonic ritual. Or maybe the dead man had hidden a mountain of money only attainable through an intricate labyrinth through a mystical city, initiated by his death. But the truth of the mystery is much darker and sickeningly believable as if it could (and does) happen in our own world, behind vaults stuffed with dollar bills, firewalls, and favors.
With everything previously stated in mind, Blue Madagascar is a clean-cut, exciting, daring, up-the-ante mystery. Kaplan doesn’t disappoint and if you are looking for a substantial but speedy read with just as much depth as there is movement, Blue Madagascar is not only a worthy read but a great blueprint for aspiring thriller and mystery writers and the readers who love them.
About the reviewer: Craig Hayes II is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, having majored in English Writing with a minor in Secondary Education. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Craig is a poet, musician, and a lover of all forms of art and expression. He will be obtaining an MFA at NYU in the fall.