White Bizango by Stephen Gallagher

White Bizango is the story of American police detective John Lafcadio versus a mysterious adversary whose weapon of choice is voodoo. No doubt X-Files warning bells are already going off in readers’ minds, so let me say right now, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a straight crime story, which never strays very far from planet earth, and is all the better for it.

The 150-page novella kicks off in the wake of a kidnapping. A young boy has been taken from his mother, right in the middle of a busy shopping mall. Lafcadio is hot on the trail, and we’re quickly treated to an tense chase scene with a surprising conclusion. As the manhunt develops, there are plenty more shocks awaiting the reader, none of which I would dare spoil.

John Lafcadio is a basically good-hearted cop with a dry wit and a cut-to-the-chase manner. Gallagher writes in the first person and uses it to full advantage, giving the reader a hefty slice of what’s going on inside the man’s head, and really bringing him to life.

Gallagher also has a knack for describing things vividly in very few words, and in quite a humourous fashion. For example, instead of talking about “a very fat woman in a green dress”, you get “a woman in a green tent”. There are a few real gems in the book that got me smiling.

Voodoo features heavily in the story, and I get the impression that Gallagher has done his homework. Instead of using voodoo as a cliched scare-tactic designed to give the reader the heebie-jeebies, Gallagher goes for the subtler approach of showing the religion’s misuse as a weapon of crime: people being controlled (and their wallets emptied) by making them afraid.

If there’s one aspect of the book I’m a little disappointed by, it’s the way it ends – only because the fast-paced, surprise-filled journey hints at the promise of something a bit more unexpected. Don’t get me wrong though, the ending does bring the whole story to a good close, and there wasn’t a moment of boredom the whole way through the tale.

I read some Stephen Gallagher back in the eighties (Valley of Lights and Oktober), but I never kept pace with his writing career. If White Bizango is anything to do by, I’ve probably been missing some great books.