Meneesha Govender's Reviews > Bombproof

Bombproof by Michael Robotham
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's review
Dec 08, 2010

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I've always been a fan of Michael Robotham's work. Filled with non-stop action, diabolical plots, colourful and three-dimensional characters, his novels are really difficult to put down. Bombproof was all of this.

Robotham was a journalist and ghost writer before taking up fiction writing. It was a long journey but he does not look back.

"I thought journalism would be a great career for a would-be writer, but soon discovered that you're a journalist for 24 hours a day, always chasing your next story. Journalism took me around the world and I witnessed some amazing things, but in many ways it is a young person's profession - particularly covering conflicts and wars.

"I finally summoned up the courage to quit my job as a feature writer on a British national paper. Ghostwriting was the next step.

"I was a ghostwriter for 10 years and collaborated on 15 autobiographies for all sorts of people ranging from pop stars, such as Gerri Halliwell of Spice Girls fame, to politicians as well as special forces soldiers and sporting greats."

Bombproof is violent, fast and a non-stop thriller.

It is peopled with amazing and sometimes unforgettable characters.

Inspired by the London terror attacks and the subsequent shooting of Charles de Menezes, an innocent man, Robotham says: "Bombproof was inspired by the hysteria and paranoia created by the Charles de Menezes shooting in London after the terrible May 7 bombings.

"These were dark days in London, but as so often happens, people overreact and jump at shadows, surrendering personal freedoms and in many ways allowing the terrorists to win because they change the way they live."

In the novel, Sami Macbeth has got to be the most unlucky person in the world. He's a man with the uncanny ability to turn a desperate situation into a completely hopeless one.

And it is for this reason that I couldn't put this book down - I just needed to know that this hapless individual would survive the ordeal of being Sami Macbeth.

Sami is not a master criminal, but everyone, including the most dangerous criminals in London, believes he is the best jewel thief, a safe-cracker and an expert in explosives.

Sami just loves music. He dreams only of being a rock star and keeping his younger sister, Nadia, safe.

But his plans are constantly scuppered by unforeseen circumstances that always see him coming out the loser in a big way.

He is released from prison after doing time for a daring crime he did not commit, that earns him hero status among the most notorious criminals in London.

As soon as the prison gates shut behind him, he is confronted by a few suspicious-looking thugs that he narrowly avoids.

That's about his only lucky break in the novel and throughout the rest of the book I just waited for him to die. In fact he manages to work himself so deeply into trouble towards the end, that this seems to be the most humane solution to this rather likeable character's problems.

The London underworld is a dark and complex one and Sami is pulled right into the heart of it.

When the underworld collides with the world of terror, the consequences for everyone can only be dire.

Like De Menezes, Sami is largely a tragic victim of circumstance and mass hysteria.

Robotham offers a striking analysis of society and the authorities and their response to the London attacks.

Bombproof is an indictment of a society as a whole that jumps to conclusions, especially with the current paranoia and preoccupation with terrorism.

"I remember being in London and New York soon after the London bombings. There was a lot of racial profiling going on, when it came to searching young men on the underground systems.

"I began wondering what would happen if you happened to be carrying a rucksack through a city, which contained something illegal. Not a bomb, but still something you couldn't reveal," he says.

"Later we also had a case in Australia where a young Indian doctor working in a Queensland hospital was arrested and held under anti-terrorism laws because one of his distant cousins was loosely linked to an attempted bombing in London.

"This poor guy was later cleared completely, but suffered a media and political lynching. The Australian government is yet to issue an apology to him.

"(Bombproof) is in one sense a satire, but I don't want anyone to think I'm making fun of such a serious subject," stresses Robotham.

"I hope I'm holding up a mirror to society that exaggerates and also provokes people to think a little about how lucky we are to live in the first world."

The book deals with these issues with sensitivity, insight and empathy. It is a refreshing and honest take on an issue that most governments justify and refuse to apologise for.

However, I did have a rather surprising gripe with the novel as a whole. One of the reasons I've always enjoyed Robotham's novels is that he has the most amazing and inspirational female characters who often take on lead roles.

In Bombproof, however, the women are rather disappointing and quite weak.

From Sami's heroin-addicted sister who is the ultimate victim and barely says two words even when she is sober and clean, to Sami's love interest, Kate, who is left standing on a street corner, to the wife of criminal-turned-respectable businessman, Ray Garza, who is a spoilt, rich madam, and to the female law officers, Robotham treats his female characters rather simplistically.

One gets the feeling they are just there to make the men in their lives look really good or really evil.

I was left with many unanswered questions about the important women in Sami's life. I wanted to know if and how Nadia and Kate turned out, how they moved on, how there lives changed and so on.

Robotham brings the stories of his male characters to perfect closure, but not so his female characters.

His response to this is that perhaps I've read too much into the novel.

"I set out to write a very very fast-paced book, something that was funny, violent, sexy and super-charged, something Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino might film," he says.

"Yes, the book lacks strong female characters. And yes, the women are generally portrayed as victims.

"This is partly a reflection on the setting and subject matter. Gangland London. Drug trafficking. Prostitution. Corrupt cops. Prisons.

"I love writing female characters, but for Bombproof I chose to concentrate on Sami Macbeth, a man who hadn't really seen any women for five years."

I accept this argument and see the point.

But I've decided to reserve judgment on this issue - until I've read his next novel.
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