Author, attorney, and oilman, John Ballem has lived and practised energy law in Calgary since the mid-fifties. A Victim of Convenience is his twelfth novel. He has also published numerous short stories, a volume of poetry, and a legal textbook. He travels extensively throughout the world.
All the ingredients for a superb thriller are present in John Bishop Ballem’s tenth novel. On Manchineel, the Caribbean playground of the rich and famous, Skye MacLeod flies his own vintage airplane, attends parties, flirts with a gin-loving princess, and falls in love with the ex-wife of a powerful American senator. He comes to realize that there is something dreadfully wrong with this island paradise through a series of strange events: unusual shark attacks, voodoo ceremonies, and the disappearance of several children and young adults.
Manchineel is an island in the Caribbean reserved for villas owned by a select group of rich and royals. Manchineel is one of the first novels to be published under a new imprint, Castle Street Mysteries, from The Dundurn Group. The author is John Ballem who counts nine other novels, several short stories, a collection of poetry and a textbook on oil and gas law to his credit. It is further to his credit that he has managed to wring solid entertainment from the endless rounds of cocktail parties and gossip enjoyed by his motley collection of wealthy ex-colonials.
In true Dick Francis style, interest is provided by an exceptionally talented protagonist with the unlikely name of Skye MacLeod, an independent investor who flies into the island social whirl in his private vintage aircraft, the ashes of his late wife under his wing. She so enjoyed their home on the island that Skye will add her to the beach, there to squish between his toes forevermore. But this is just part of the action, leading to subplots with voodoo encounters and romance of the sexy kind.
The author has a keen eye for island beauties, native and imported. Not that Skye himself is much affected. He's just too great a guy to letch after the female flesh thrown his way. Skye is the type of wealthy, white world-hopper that servants put down the dishes and risk their lives for. He's the sort past employees turn to for help when their children go missing. He'll not only develop alternative theories when shark-attack victims wash ashore, you can count on him for action when the brainwork's done.
It's fun. Manchineel will fill a summer lawn chair for hours at a stretch. Toward the end it even has a Bond-style raid on a mysterious island, and of course Skye gets the girl. Sort of. There might be more to come from that direction. I for one shall look forward to it.
Oliver, freshen my G&T will you, there's a good chap.
Kevin J Schooley, Murder Out There (www.murderoutthere.com)
[Ballam's] extensive travels and keenly honed skills in the legal profession have allowed him to give an aura of versismilitude to the unusual, and often exotic, settings and large-scale political intrigues against which the action of his thrillers unfolds.