Fresh Blood

Name: K.T. Medina

Title of Book: White Crocodile

'‘White Crocodile’ is an extremely strong debut novel with an explosive ending. '

Tess Hardy thought that when her violent ex-husband, Luke went off to work as a land mine clearer in Cambodia that was the last she would hear from him. That is what she hoped. Then Luke calls Tess and she can tell there is fear in his voice. Two weeks later Tess is told of his death in one of the mine fields.

Despite her mixed feelings towards Luke, Tess takes a job at the same company to find out what exactly it was that had made Luke fear for his own life. On her first morning there is another casualty in a mine field and the locals are quick to put the recent incidents down to the White Crocodile who in local myth is the symbol of Death. Soon, after much investigation, Tess begins to wonder who exactly she can trust as everyone appears to have their own agenda and dark secrets.

Medina’s writing is extremely evocative and within a few paragraphs had transported me to Cambodia. The daily menace of field mines is paramount to the main plot of this novel and Tess is a feisty woman who can stand on her own two feet but is also someone who has her own demons, which thankfully don’t get too much in the way of her main thrust of the book.

Medina’s description of daily life could be another universe instead of another country. She describes the poverty, the superstitious beliefs of the small shanty towns and the prejudices against those born out of wedlock. The picture Medina paints of the hospital for the locals is quite horrific and makes you thankful that we have such a thing as the NHS here in the UK. You can tell that Medina feels a lot of love for this country and its people and their simple lifestyle, and yet is repulsed by the way they are so easily exploited by those with money.

Although I admire Tess’ determination to find the truth, I did wonder why after being subjected to domestic abuse by Luke during their tempestuous marriage, did she still feel so honour-bound to go out and investigate his murder. Would many ex-wives who had escaped such a control freak really want to get justice for their abuser? Medina argues Tess’ case for going to Cambodia in the first place, but I leave it up to the reader to decide whether this is a strong enough motive.

Medina weaves Tess’ search with a case back in Manchester. In fact, I would have preferred to have read more about the UK end of the case and I greatly enjoyed the brief introduction to DI Andy Wessex who I wouldn’t mind being brought back in his own novel at a later date.

‘White Crocodile’ is an extremely strong debut novel with an explosive ending. The result worked and even a week after finishing it I still get wisps from Medina’s novel floating in my mind like shipyard confetti. It is always exciting to pick up a book that takes a different slant on the crime genre and anyone who dreams of something a little out of the ordinary should be reaching for this excellent debut.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) In your book the White Crocodile is a legend of evil. Is this really part of Cambodian myth?
When a family member dies, Cambodians will hang a flag depicting a white crocodile outside their home to signify that death has stolen a loved one. The story of the white crocodile is based on a five hundred year old myth in which the only daughter of King Chan Reachea was eaten by a huge white crocodile whilst swimming in the Tonle Sap River. The King ordered his men to hunt the crocodile down, kill it and cut the body of his daughter from its stomach. Then he ordered that a Buddhist stupa - a temple - be built to bury his daughter. Twenty innocent young women were executed and buried around the stupa so their anguished souls would haunt the stupa and protect it from destruction for all time. Ever since, Khmers have believed that the white crocodile signifies death.
2) Most of the book is situated in Cambodia. Have you had any dealings with this country and is this why you placed your novel in this part of the world?
‘White Crocodile’ is very personal to me because the idea came out of time I spent working in Cambodia. Off the tourist trail, Cambodia is a heartbreaking place to visit and left a huge and lasting impression on me. I felt strongly on getting back to England that I wanted to shine a light onto what I found to be a dark and disturbing world, layered with exploitation. The device of a page turning thriller, that drew people into the story and characters, whilst at the same time taking them into this horrific real world was, I felt, a great way to shine that light - and so ‘White Crocodile’ was born.
3) The book revolves around MCT, which is a company that removes land mines laid by the Khmer Rouge. Have you had any previous involvement with land mines?
I had the idea for ‘White Crocodile’ while I was working for Jane's Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information, as Managing Editor, Land-Based Weapons. As part of that role, I worked alongside professional mine clearers in Cambodia to find out what information they needed to help them to clear mines more quickly and safely in the field. I was privileged to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to spend time talking with Khmers - adults and children - who had lost limbs to land mines and visiting many of the locations that appear in ‘White Crocodile’.

I also spent five years in the Territorial Army first as an officer trainee and then as a Platoon Commander in the Royal Engineers, the Army regiment responsible for clearing land mines.
4) Tess is a strong character who has also been the victim of domestic abuse. Why did you include this form of abuse in your book?
I have a couple of friends who were victims of domestic abuse and one who is still living in an abusive relationship and they are all strong, clever and attractive women who married the wrong man. I wanted to illustrate that domestic abuse is not confined to women who are ‘typical’ victims – if such a profile exists at all - but that anybody can potentially become a victim of domestic abuse if put into the wrong situation.

I also didn’t want Tess to be a one dimensional, G I Jane type character, as that person would never exist in real life and I quickly lose interest in novels that contain such simple, cardboard characters.
5) The locals are extremely suspicious of outsiders and even of each other. Also there is a lot of prejudice especially towards childbirth outside of marriage. Is this a true portrait of Cambodian life?
Despite all the sexual tourism that goes on in Cambodia – sexual tourists and paedophiles from the West exploiting young Khmer women and men - it is a very conservative society with strong family values and one that frowns on women having children outside wedlock. One of the central themes running through ‘White Crocodile’ is the theme of exploitation in all its forms and unfortunately, because of the abject poverty in Cambodia and the lack of social security, people are very vulnerable to exploitation.
6) This is your debut novel. Did you have to write around your ‘day job’? What sort of writing regime do you try to stick to?
I wrote the first draft of ‘White Crocodile’ when on maternity leave with my second child. I then finished it when on maternity leave with my third! I am quite a disciplined (my husband would probably say obsessive) person and would sit down and write any time I had a spare half-an hour. I set myself a target of one thousand words a day and found that having this target focused my mind. I work in a small room right at the top of the house, which is freezing in winter and boiling hot in summer, but the location gives me space to escape. I found with ‘White Crocodile’ that I loved spending time with my characters. It wasn’t a chore to sit down and write, and so motivating myself to use the limited time that I had was easy. Writing can be a great career for a mum, because it involves working from home and is flexible. The downside of that flexibility is that I often end up working late into the night and spend most of my time very sleep deprived.
7) As a new published writer what one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out on their own writing journey?
I would tell them to set a minimum daily word count and write every day – even if they don’t feel like it. If you want to make a career out of writing, you need to treat it like any other job and ‘go to work’ even if there are a million other things you would prefer to do that day.
8) Is your next book placed in Cambodia or is it situated somewhere entirely different?
I have just finished my second thriller, which is provisionally titled ‘The Shadowman’. It is set in England and Afghanistan and as with ‘White Crocodile’, features a strong female protagonist.
9) What do you look for when you pick up a book to read?
I love crime novels and thrillers, which is why I chose to write in that genre. I look for a novel that grabs my attention right from the first page and keeps it. I also look for multi-dimensional characters who feel real. I am particularly interested in novels within the genre that are original and break the mould. Unfortunately, writing my own novel has made me far fussier about what I read.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
The three crime novels that inspired me the most were ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith, ‘The Treatment’ by Mo Hayder and ‘The Snowman’ by Jo Nesbo.

Tom Rob Smith’s ‘Child 44’ was a huge inspiration as it was a taught, page turning thriller with complex, believable characters, but also a thriller that, as with ‘White Crocodile’, was grounded in real life events, albeit historical ones. I learnt a lot about creating real fear in fiction from Mo Hayder, and I still check the ceiling rose when I go to bed at night having read ‘The Treatment’ (people who have read it will understand why!). Jo Nesbo’s ‘The Snowman’ is a fantastic crime novel containing a central ‘myth’ much like ‘White Crocodile’. It is fantastically well written, intricately plotted and keeps the reader guessing right until the end.