White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume, hard-boiled, noir mystery, is interesting on several levels: It is set in Mali, about which I suspect few American reader know much; I certainly don't. Its narrator is Souleymane Camara, called Solo, a half-African/half-French ex-cop
The book begins stereotypically with a beautiful dame, a French lawyer, showing up in Solo's office with a problem she wants him to solve. Her younger sister has been arrested as a drug mule. Solo needs to get her out of prison. No problem—or no big problem. Solo knows who to bribe and the sister is released.
Then the sister's mutilated body is pulled out of the river, and shortly after two exceptionally brutal thugs chop off the hand of Solo's elderly gardinier, which is what "Bamako residents call someone who tends the grounds and garden." They do it to warn off Solo, the old man dies, and, needless to say, Solo is not warned off. By the book's end, Solo has found himself involved in an international drug trafficking ring, a gay Ukrainian crook who's not what he seems, an upcountry gold mine, a shore-side standoff between the military and himself, and more.
White Leopard, translated gracefully from the French by Sophie Weiner, is Guillaume's first book to be published in English. He is apparently writing from the inside. A former police officer, he worked on anti-gang, narcotics, and financial crimes. He also served on a number of international cooperation missions, including one as a police adviser in Mali, particularly for issues related to drug trafficking. He has six thrillers published in France (French readers: take note).
I said above I know nothing about Mali, but now I know something: "Mali was once the French Sudan, and even though it has been an independent nation for a half century, vestiges of French rule still remain." A painless way to assimilate geopolitical information. And while Mali may be a third world country, technology thrives: "It took me a good ten minutes to find Ronny's magnetic GPS tracker underneath the engine block [of my Land Cruiser]. I pulled it off and examined the casing. It had a cable with a male USB port. I hooked it up to my computer and quickly figured out how to download the correct application. Fifteen minutes later, the GPS's location showed up on Google Earth. Satisfied, I charged the battery before going to bed."
While White Leopard contains some grisly violence, I never felt the bloodshed was gratuitous or overdone. Solo operates in a violent and corrupt milieu. Readers who would enjoy a safe visit to that world as they watch Solo untangle the mystery surrounding the sister's death will enjoy White Leopard.