GUEST POST by MICHAEL NIEMANN:
The Making of a Protagonist?
The classic protagonist for international thrillers is the spy. The spy exists in many permutations, from a suave womanizer like James Bond to an ambivalent Cold War fighter like George Smiley and many variations in between. The one thing these different version of the spy have in common is that they represents a specific country. And the antagonist is either a spy from a bad country (the communist world during the Cold War, an Arab country or North Korea in the present) or a vaguely defined terrorist (again, more often than not of Arab extraction).
I was looking for something else. I was looking for a protagonist whose work wasn't tied to a specific country, making that country the good guys. At one level, this desire reflects my own hybrid experience, having lived my life in two countries, but it goes deeper than that. For many of not most humans on the planet today, the borders that divide the world’s landmass are arbitrary lines that play at best a secondary role in their lives. That’s because most borders are barely a century old.
In my search for such a protagonist, I stumbled upon Valentin Vermeulen, my protagonist in "Legitimate Business" by lucky accident. My last academic publications dealt with the conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My research included a report of a panel of experts on the illegal exploitation of resources in the Eastern Congo. It explained the intricate nature of the dealings six different countries and numerous rebel groups had in that part of Africa. The account read like a spy novel, the means of exploiting resources and trading them for cash and weapons was riveting, but it wasn't fiction, it was real.
Review: As soon as I finished this exciting thriller, I wished to start reading again. LEGITIMATE BUSINESS is a fine balance between the global and the personal; between international politics and "exo-politics" (black market); legality and illegality of war; nations and rebels; warlords and refugees. Ideology, greed and the other human frailties predominate, while our protagonist Vermeulen is not so much "flawed hero," as a man who tries to learn from his mistakes and make course corrections: an evolving human.