Bombproof By Michael Robotham
A Literary Review

South Africa By: Paul Pregnolato on 30 July 2010
Category: Books > Reviews Comments View Comments

Beat the worst of London's underworld at their game. Rescue your sister. Clear your name - and not necessarily in that sequence. A tall order for anyone - but especially for someone being hunted by every military and police agency in the United Kingdom as a suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist....

Bombproof By Michael RobothamGritty, fast paced, and peppered with violence and black humour in equal measure, Michael Robotham's Bombproof is a literary rollercoaster set in contemporary London and featuring one of the most unlikely anti-heroes of recent times. With an uncanny knack of turning a desperate situation into a hopeless one, Sami Macbeth is no super spy like James Bond or Jack Bauer. Instead, his sole ambition had been to be a guitar god in his own band... until he was found in possession of a priceless gem stolen by one of his roadies and imprisoned for five years.

While a guest of Her Majesty's Prison Services, he avoids becoming his fellow inmates' newest source of "entertainment" by playing along with the illusion that he is indeed an accomplished safecracker worthy of their "respect" and manages to earns the nickname "Sparkles" as a result. However, on the eve of Sami's parole, "Baby Ray" Garza, the ne'er-do-well son of the undisputed king of the London underworld - Ray "The Chairman" Garza - is arrested for possession of eight kilogrammes of cocaine and a Beretta 93R machine pistol he "borrowed" from sociopathic thug Tony Murphy. Who better to break into the Old Bailey's strong room and make the evidence "disappear" than "Sparkles" Macbeth After Murphy blackmails Sami into co-operating by abducting his younger sister, a dramatic chain of events - including a bombing that eerily recaptures the atmosphere of the London Underground attacks on 7 July 2005 - sees Sami going from fresh parolee to England's most wanted man in the space of 48 hours. His only chance is to rely on his wits and hope that former Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, the protagonist of Robotham's previous novels, finds him before Murphy or the London Metropolitan Police do so.

Bombproof's pace rarely falters and while Robotham ratchets up the mayhem to a level that would put Tarantino to shame, he also does an excellent job of fleshing out Sami's character. Essentially a decent character caught up in circumstances way beyond his control, one cannot but root for him from the get-go. What is especially satisfying is seeing his initial desperation to rescue his sister - and simultaneously stay one step ahead of the London Metropolitan Police and some truly fearsome thugs - being transformed into a feral-like cunning that will leave even the most jaded fans of the thriller-genre cackling with glee.

The author does a similarly commendable job in sketching the personae of both Tony Murphy and Ray Garza. While Murphy comes across as a particularly nasty and unprincipled example of London's crème de la scum, Garza is an especially ominous individual, and more so because, while he has used his ill-gotten wealth and influence to inveigle himself into "The Establishment", he is still cut from the same cloth as the Kray twins and "Mad Frankie" Frazer. By the same token, however, some of their sicarios are a tad too stereotyped, such as a Rasta drug dealer with the incongruous street name of "Puffa", the oily (but appropriately named) night-club owner Toby Streak and Dessie "The Doberman" Fraser, a psychotic ex-Para henchman (a characterisation which appears to be increasingly de rigueur for most crime-thrillers set in contemporary England!).

Perhaps the only disappointment is the relative lack of involvement of Vincent Ruiz: while he was front and centre in all of Robotham's previous works, in Bombproof he is relegated to following in the wake of the chaos left by Sami, Garza, and Murphy. Furthermore, while the slang employed does wonders for creating an authentic feel of actually being on the mean streets of London, it is occasionally incomprehensible: few outside England will know that "Gary Abbletts", "gaff", "Charlie" and "rozzers" actually refer to tablets, a house, cocaine and the police, respectively.

While Bombproof delves mainly into the seedy London underworld, Robotham also takes a pot shot at society's predilection for jumping to the wrong conclusion in the context of post-9/11 xenophobic paranoia and the preoccupation with domestic terrorism. After being accused of being an Al-Qaeda terrorist and his mother's Muslim background is seized upon by the press and police alike to reinforce this view, he comments in one scene that "I'm as British as you, but arseholes like you make me wonder if I should be proud of that". The London Metropolitan Police also comes under fire (excuse the pun), with its members being portrayed as either semi-competent bunglers or (in the case of CO-19) as a posse of trigger-happy cowboys itching to gun down Sami... an assertion that has an uncomfortable grain of real-life truth about it when one recalls the July 2005 Charles de Menezes shooting and the subsequent official whitewash.

Although Bombproof is primarily a thriller, it also has some of the best one-liners I've read for a long time: when musing about his ex-wife, Ruiz comments that "the sex was so good that even the neighbours had a cigarette afterwards". Sami's observations are equally priceless ("to me an intifada sounds like an all-you-can-eat Mexican meal" being one) and his improbable fantasy about arresting Garza and Murphy while en route to the final confrontation between them is typical of Bombproof's dark sense of humour:

"He can see the headlines spinning into focus: TERROR SUSPECT PARDONED and WANTED MAN TURNS HERO. Next he's meeting the Prime Minister at Downing Street and watching him weep with gratitude. He gets a book deal, Guy Ritchie directs the movie and Sami walks Kate Tierney up the red carpet while she's wearing one of those backless evening dresses that have the paparazzi shouldering each other out of the way and screaming her name. Charlie Cox plays Sami and Sienna Miller plays Kate. (As long as they don't get Jude Law - any guy who's engaged to Sienna Miller and gets caught shagging the nanny is a complete tosser)."

The ending is utterly predictable but Robotham manages to tie up all the loose ends with enough élan to distract most readers from the (admittedly) conventional plot and some one-dimensional characterisations. However, to give credit where credit is due, Bombproof is crisply written, fast paced, and will definitely find favour with fans of works by Gerald Seymour and Stephen Leather.

The review copy of Bombproof by Michael Robotham was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including,,, and Opinion Share/Bookmark
Rating: 8/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Please note that the book was re-released with a new ISBN and slightly different dimensions. We've included that information here (with the review copy's information in brackets) and those shopping links in the Shop Online section below.
Title: Bombproof
Author: Michael Robotham
ISBN/EAN: 9780751542042 (9781847443090)
Publisher: Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group (Hatchette)
Edition: First (this edition), first published in Australia and New Zealand by Sphere/Hatchette Australia
Year: 2008, this edition 2009 (29 September 2009)
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 400 (311)
Dimensions: 126x198x32mm (150x235x25mm) (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: crime, drama, fiction, terrorism, thriller, United Kingdom

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