“Brand New Friend” by Kate Vane

Brand New Friend

Brand New Friend

Kate Vane

Paolo (real name: Paul), a BBC journalist, discovers that an old college friend from his activist days is really an undercover police officer, who may or may not have “gone native.” Paolo ends up getting drawn back into their circle, and investigating old and new murders as he questions who and what his friends are.

“Brand New Friend” is a contemporary political thriller, but with at least one foot in some other genre, maybe literary fiction, maybe family drama. It’s narrated in alternating sections describing Paolo’s current investigation and his memories of his student days and his involvement in animal rights activism, with side contemplations of his marriage to Salma, an Egyptian journalist who shot to fame for her involvement in the Tahrir Square demonstrations. While the book is shortish, as mystery novels tend to be, and the prose style straightforward, it brings up myriad complex issues about identity and political engagement. The actual political causes the various characters are involved in–animal rights, mine strikes, environmental protection, the Arab Spring–are treated lightly but sympathetically, with the focus on the characters’ internal experience rather than their political positions.

This is more cerebral than your average beach read thriller, so if you go into it expecting car chases and shootouts, you’re likely to be disappointed, but the characters are complex and the mystery unfolds in a satisfying manner, making it a pleasant high-brow suspense novel for some fun summer reading.

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