Drugs, lies, murders, and hunt for the culprit at the root-a typical crime story everyone has been watching for decades. This time Yasmina Khadra sets the scene in Algeria with his (or her, if you would) political thriller Double Blank (Toby Press, 2005). We now know Khadra is the nom de plume of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an Algerian army officer whose books breach the underpinnings of violence in Algeria. It is easy to see where a modern political thriller like Double Blank ends up – at the doorstep of a crooked businessman-cum-politician. And Khadra gets us way up there.
Double Blank tells of police superintendent, Mr. Llob, who is set to track the hand behind a series of murders involving puppets in the drug market and the red-light district. Things get to a little higher level as clues point to a conspiracy theory living in a diskette. There is little new in the 140 pages of killings and investigation except its Algerian setting. You are watching Law and Order with some added action and subtracted coherence of plot.
Khadra’s book is a prey to many weaknesses. It is supposed to be a novel but the mode of narration is typical of a short story. The voice of the narrator in present has unnaturalness hard to put up with, especially in a story with events that certainly have taken place in the past. There is little true action in the story and the most blatant murders happen in two sentences. Lack of description leaves a very poor mental picture of the scenes. Characters too are extremely ill-defined and character development seems a thing alien to the author’s concern.
The most fatal slump of Double Blank is, perhaps, the quirky employment of humor throughout the telling of events. Superintendent Llob’s voice sounds detached from its inner care for peace by constantly gushing out twisted quips, many of which are too idiosyncratic to be appreciated. Clumsy experimenting it language and slack exaggeration for the sake of humor nullifies the effect of Khadra’s tale. In general, Double Blank falls too very short of a novel. It sounds like a story you try to get involved in as a reader and always find yourself far behind where you started.