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Shady nuclear deals with Russians, sinister ISIS operatives, the CIA and SA’s devious spies – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Mike Nicol’s plausible and fast-moving Sleeper

Published in the Witness: 5 November 2018

Sleeper, Mike Nicol

Mike Nicol’s fictional world can be brutal, disturbing and, at times, downright scary because it is all too plausible with the wild mix of corruption, mayhem and good and bad people that make up South Africa, both in reality and in fiction.

But because many of his characters are familiar from other outings, there is, paradoxically, something comforting about it.

Fish Pescado and Vicki Kahn might have their flaws, but the reader will root for them – they are an appealing duo, and we like them.

The plot here is complicated, but Nicol is a skilled operator, and manages to twist and re-weave all the strands into a credible whole.

When Sleeper opens, the Minister of Energy has been murdered, and Fish is hired by the murdered man’s lover, Caitlyn Suarez, an international businesswoman, to find out who is the culprit because the cops are determined to pin it on to her. She has also got a minder, Krista Bishop – whose roots run deep in Nicol’s fiction. Then the policeman investigating the minister’s murder, and who is also Fish’s neighbour, commits suicide. More trouble for Fish.

Meanwhile, Vicki, who is having a problem with her gambling addiction, is called in by her former boss at the South African spy agency to track down a pair of Iranians who are trying to steal highly enriched uranium, still held by South Africa at a remote location in the Northern Cape.

And just how are the director of the Department of Energy – now without a minister – and a top nuclear scientist involved in all this?

Nicol creates a world of shady nuclear deals with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and threats of dirty bombs. In it sinister ISIS operatives, the CIA, South Africa’s own devious spies, crooked politicians and a sleeper deeply embedded in local society all ply their increasingly dirty trades.

It makes for a plausible, fast-moving novel – and leaves you wondering how much of this sort of thing is actually going on under our noses. Just one example: has South Africa really got rid of all the nuclear material that was stockpiled in the bad old days?

And if not, where is it and who has their hands on it?

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