Arabesque is a breakneck thriller that takes its tagline 'be the best', and tests its protagonist Amy May's competitive philsophy to the ultimate breaking point. Amy is one of the most fiercely determined fifteen year old girls you could possibly come across. A wunderkid gymnast, she's only missing out on being in the Olympics because of her age. The press coverage she gets for this alerts her to some criminals with an eye on making a fast buck. Amy and best friend Mia soon find themselves victims of a bungled kidnapping. But this ordeal is nothing compared to what happens next.
Fans of Mulhern's gritty debut Clash will enjoy this book. The murky depths of cage fighting explored in that book are replaced by the very real danger of the criminal underworld, and the perilous stakes are always high for Amy and Mia. Like Clash the pace never lets up, and Mulhern unflinchingly explores the horrific realities of organised crime (despite the near total absence of expletives, the subject matter perhaps still makes this unsuitable for younger readers). The trump cards are his two strong female leads, who complement each other well, and deftly illustrate that girls can kick butt when the going gets tough.
The unfussy, spare style suits this book down to a tee, and makes it nigh on unputdownable. It's only toward the end that things start to become a bit unstuck. A surprise twist, unexpected as it is, stretches the bounds of credibility and coincidence somewhat. Things then feel a bit rushed as the novel hurtles toward its conclusion, and the shock ending (again, didn't see it coming) left me dangling and unsatisfied. Maybe this could've done with another chapter, for some emotional closure?
Nevertheless, Arabesque is an involving, thought provoking read and should boost Mulhern's reputation further. It will be interesting to see what he does next.