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Two poor Kenyan men visiting the U.S. are found dead, one in jail, one on the street. Both used forged UN documents to enter the country. Valentin Vermeulen’s superiors have no interest in the plight of undocumented immigrants, but they want him to stop the fraud. The clues take Vermeulen from New York City to Newark, where he riles a woman known as “The Broker,” then to Vienna.

Earle Jackson, a small-time hustler and the last person to speak with one of the dead Kenyans, has taken the man’s passport and money. He also finds a note listing an address in Newark, where his efforts to cash in on the situation go awry. Fleeing for his life, Jackson flies to Nairobi using the dead man’s passport.

Vermeulen and Jackson have chanced upon a criminal network more extensive and vicious than either could have imagined. To survive, Vermeulen must do more than sever a few links. He must find the mastermind at the top.

Author Michael Niemann recently discussed his latest thriller, ILLICIT TRADE, with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

First, I hope readers will enjoy the book. Fiction is all about entertainment. I hope I succeeded there. Second, readers will visit different parts of the world. Hopefully, they’ll learn something new about those places. Third, the nature of the crime is unfortunately very real. I hope that readers gain an awareness of these machinations world wide.

How does this book make a contribution to the genre?

ILLICIT TRADE, like Legitimate Business before it, is an international thriller. That’s nothing new, but my protagonist doesn’t work for a particular country, he works for the United Nations. That changes the nature of the conflict and its resolution. He’s fighting for justice irrespective of the victims nationality.

Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?

I was surprised how pervasive the illicit trade that constitutes the plot of the novel is in the real world. Even as I was writing it, new reports in the papers indicated how serious it actually is.

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

Much of the insights for this novel actually came from two academic articles written by an anthropologist Nancy Sheper-Hughes.

What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?

John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Lee Child. The first two because they introduced me to spy fiction and inspired me to write in this genre. Lee Child because of his straightforward style. My protagonist is no Reacher, but he’s taken a page or two from the ex-MP.

There are many books that have inspired me, but at the top is The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré.


Praise for Legitimate Business:

A gripping thriller set against the backdrop of one of the most violent regions in the world. Niemann is an excitingly original voice in the genre.” ~Michael Stanley, award winning author of the Detective Kubu mysteries.


Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world.

To learn more, please visit his website.