Corrupt politicians. Where would we fiction writers be without them?
There are allegations flying around at present about certain individuals in government in Malta, most notably after the car-bomb assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Malta is steeped in history – and conflict – and well worth a visit. I’ve lived there, and subsequently visited several times since. Yet, like everywhere else, there’s a dark side…
Apparently, in the last ten years or so Malta has suffered about fifteen mafia-style assassinations and car bombings, and accusations of corruption, bribery and money-laundering currently prevail.
My cross-genre crime/vampire/black magic thriller Chill of the Shadow has its share of corrupt individuals. Here’s an excerpt from pp115/116:
Grech entered the room and welcomed the four men and a woman, all dressed in black. They sat in a circle on easy chairs, and sipped drinks supplied from the cabinet at the curtained window.
The wall lights were dimmed, subduing the place in shadows. In the centrr of their circle was a round wooden coffee table; lying on its carved surface was a thick large book, its binding tinged a pale yellowing pink in the poor light.
There were three empty chairs in the circle. As Grech sat in one of them, he said, “Zondadari will be down shortly. And Spellman’s due in a half-hour. Then we can discuss the arrangements for his ceremony.”
The woman spoke first. “Is Zondadari going to be of any use to us?”
“Most certainly, Selena,” Grech replied. “He is powerful, knows how to suborn any potential trouble-makers – in particular, dangerous political opponents. He and his acolytes can go into places we or our feeble manifestations cannot. And usually he’s the height of discretion.”
Selena’s dark eyes widened. “Usually?”
“Yes,” chimed in Spiteri, breathing heavily as he leaned his obese frame forward. “Sometimes. The other day one of his bloodless corpses was discovered.” He raised a pudgy, ring-laden hand. “Don’t worry. I covered the tracks. Mind you, I had the devil’s own job getting the file hidden away in old HQ records.” His double chins wobbled at the memory.
Selena persisted. “I thought he promised to be more careful – at least till after the election?” Her thin red lips – enhanced by a grey lipstick outline – pursed cruelly.
David Bugeja, dressed in black corduroys and a silk shirt, sat with his legs stretched out under the table. Although he was a politician, he more resembled a film or theatre director, someone involved in the make-believe of the arts rather than the lies of politics.
Bugeja eased himself up in the seat, sighed and said, “We all break promises, don’t we?” And he eyed Selena maliciously.
Not for the first time, Grech wondered if there had been anything between those two. “Zondadari tries,” Bugeja concluded, “poor bastard.”
Spiteri’s thick lips curled wetly in obvious distaste. “You feel sorry for – for him?”
“Yes, James, I do.” Bugeja gestured vaguely with his long thin hands. “He didn’t ask to become a vampire, you know. He told me the story about his joining the undead – it’s terribly tragic.”
Spiteri sank back and guffawed.
“It’s an eternal curse, true,” conceded Selena.
Grech loudly cleared his throat. “Can we get back on track?” He addressed the gaunt greying man on his left, another politician. “John, is the police department in our pocket yet?”
John Camilleri’s hand rubbed his designer stubble and he suddenly seemed uncomfortable. “Ready for the election?”
“Yes, John,” said Grech with diminishing patience, “the coup we’ve all been working toward.”
Camilleri fidgeted, his dark brown eyes evasive. “Well, no. Not in our pocket, exactly.”
“What exactly, then, John – if you would be so good as to tell us?” The tone in Grech’s voice was impatient, bordering on menace.
“I fear those days are gone. There are plenty of police who’re incorruptible–”
“Detective Sergeant Attard,” Petri, a shipping magnate, broke in. “Isn’t he becoming a nuisance?”
Selena shook her head. “He was. But I think you’ll find he’s suddenly lost interest in the black arts. We paid him an instructive visit tonight. He’ll be in plenty of pain, but he’ll live.”
“Good,” said Grech. “His death might have been difficult to cover up just now.”
“There’s always the traffic accident,” mused Selena. “That’s worked in the past. We’ve rid ourselves of a few troublesome thorns in the Coven’s side.”
“True. But until we’ve gained power in these islands, we have to tread with a modicum of care. The time will come when we can rid ourselves of all the Attards.”
“The reporter,” asked Bugeja, “is she getting too close?”
“No.” Grech smiled. “She’ll be fully under control very soon. I have Zondadari’s word on that.” The door opened. “Ah, talk of the devil,” – they laughed, though some of the merriment was strained – “and he will appear.”
Zondadari stood in the doorway and eyed the group. “Gentlemen. Lady. Shall we begin?”
This cross-genre thriller is set in present-day Malta and has echoes from pre-history and also the eighteenth century Knights of Malta.
Malta may be an island of sun and sand, but there’s a dark side to it too. It all started when some fishermen pulled a corpse out of the sea... Or maybe it was five years ago, in the cave of Ghar Dalam…
Spellman, an American black magician, has designs on a handpicked bunch of Maltese politicians, bending their will to his master’s. A few sacrifices, that’s all it takes. And he’s helped by Zondadari, a rather nasty vampire.
Maltese-American investigative journalist Maria Caruana’s in denial. She can’t believe Count Zondadari is a vampire. She won’t admit it. Such creatures don’t exist, surely? She won’t admit she’s in love with him, either...
Detective Sergeant Attard doesn’t like caves or anything remotely supernatural. Now he teams up with Maria to unravel the mysterious disappearance of young pregnant women. They’re also helped by the priest, Father Joseph.
And there are caves, supernatural deaths and a haunting exorcism. Just what every holiday island needs, really.
Where there is light, there is shadow…
Some reviews extracts:
Kay Lesley Reeves (Spain)
I'll never look at bats in quite the same way again. An original twist on vampire legend with a hint of tongue-in-the-cheek humour.
I visited Malta many years ago and Morton’s description is spot on. In fact his research is so exact that half-forgotten memories soon came flooding back and I found myself walking those ancient streets once again. A dark and classical tale with excellent twists that will keep readers enthralled.
… has a strong structure and is full of rich writing and action. The plot has page turning twists and the main characters are likeable, especially the female lead. I hadn't read a vampire book in a while and was reminded of how intensely gruesome they can be. While this one has its squeamish moments it's not atypical for the genre, and I can't help liking a well written book! The Malta setting was perfect, making this a great escape read.
E. B. Sullivan (California, US)
Set in picturesque Malta (the book) offers the reader a refreshing twist on the popular vampire genre. Mr. Morton weaves a story with multiple surprises. From the beginning, his plausible and complex characters lure the reader deeper into his yarn. In particular, Maria and Michael are hypnotic, compelling, and seductive. The desire to learn more about these romantic and dashing figures makes this book a true page-turner.
Chill of the Shadow - available from Amazon worldwide - e-book and paperback