July 08, 2024

Between This World and the Next

By Praveen Herat
Review by
Praveen Herat’s prizewinning debut thriller, Between This World and the Next, paints a vivid, knowledgeable portrait of a threatening political netherworld, including breakaway states like Transnistria.
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Joseph Nightingale, nicknamed Fearless after a moment of heroism during the Bosnian conflict, is a British war photographer who was in Nairobi during the August 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy. While he was away, his pregnant girlfriend, an award-winning investigative journalist, was killed in an automobile accident. As Praveen Herat’s gripping debut political thriller, Between This World and the Next, opens, Fearless has accepted his old friend, Alyosha Federenko’s invitation to Cambodia, arriving overwhelmed by grief and guilt.

Federenko stashes Fearless at the Naga, a gathering place for the gangs and soldiers of fortune set loose upon the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the chilling pleasures of this book is Herat’s vivid, knowledgeable portrait of this threatening netherworld, from outposts like the Naga to breakaway states like Transnistria, where money is exchanged for advanced weaponry and private armies are assembled to rule in feudal power.

Federenko himself resides at a luxury hotel while he wheels and deals in an attempt to gather money and power to work himself back into the upper echelons of the new Russian elite. Fearless at first forgives the acquisitiveness of a man he knows was born in chaos and poverty. But as events unfold, and people get hurt and killed, Fearless’s worldview of engaged empathy collides with Federenko’s selfish, transactional view of human interactions.

Also at the Naga is Song, a young Cambodian woman enslaved as a cleaner. As children, she and her twin sister were sold into prostitution. Song’s face has since been ravaged by an acid attack, and her soul is deflated by loss of contact with her sister. She cares for the young children who are brought to the Naga by adult predators and whose gruesome abuse is recorded on video. The existence of one of these videos, handed off to Fearless, sets the elaborate plot rolling with increasing velocity.

The final chapters of Between This World and the Next are breathtaking in their descriptive power and imaginative reach, and the novel’s ending is very satisfying. But some threads still dangle and not all questions are answered—which makes one hope for a sequel.

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