If you’ve been looking for crime fiction with a global twist, you’ll want to follow Valentin Vermeulen, the UN investigator featured in NO RIGHT WAY, the latest international suspense novel from Michael Niemann.
This thrilling story is set in 2015 when Syrian refugees, fleeing their own civil war, were pouring into Turkey. The United Nations Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) sends Valentin Vermeulen to Turkey to ensure that aid funds sent by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are used correctly. What he finds is that millions of dollars are unaccounted for.
Valentin is well suited for this kind of investigation. He’s a lawyer driven by a strong sense of justice, something that goes back to his teen years when his father lost his farm near the North Sea. Valentin’s knack for numbers has made him the go-to guy for financial crimes in the OIOS which investigates fraud in UN operations around the world. And as the author says, he likes his beer—unless he’s working.
“There is a single-minded stubbornness to him that can rub people the wrong way,” Niemann says. “It led to his divorce and his estrangement from his daughter that lasted a few years until he made amends. Readers will experience Valentin as a hero in that he doggedly pursues the bad guys and usually achieves his goal. But he doesn’t see himself as a hero. He’s got a job to do and he does it. At times he’s frustrated, even bitter, but he doesn’t strut his stuff.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees may not be well-known among American thriller readers, but Niemann chose it because he wanted to write crime novels that dealt with the global illicit networks that command billions of dollars.
“There are more serial killer novels than there are serial killers,” Niemann says, “but the criminal globalization doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Hence my protagonist, Vermeulen, whose job takes him to different parts of the globe investigating fraud.”
Wherever refugees and displaced persons are, The UNHCR works with governments to make sure those refugees have a right to asylum and a safe shelter. It’s the global refugee agency of the United Nations with a seven-billion dollar annual budget—a tempting target for thieves.
Although we read thrillers for entertainment, all great writers have a message to deliver as well. In this case, Niemann hopes readers will gain a greater awareness of the larger world around them, a sense of the fates of people who are more like them than they think, and some understanding of how complicated the politics of border regions are. He thought the refugee crisis in Turkey was a good example.
“I wanted to show that refugees are individuals with their own stories and traumas,” Niemann says, “not an amorphous mass that is easily vilified. And the unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey stretched available resources to their limit. In such situations, meeting the immediate needs becomes so important there is little time for accounting or following proper procedure. That always increases the chance of fraud.”
All these complexities are also exemplified by the novel’s villain, Mehmed Ceylen, head of the southern Turkish mafia.
As Niemann explains, “He’s getting old and he’s grooming his successor, but that turns out more complicated than he anticipated. His chosen successor isn’t necessarily on the same side, tension emerges quickly, and that interferes with his last big deal.”
Facing off against the mafia is challenging for Vermeulen, in part, because he is not law enforcement. Even if he uncovers a crime, he most likely has no jurisdiction so, as Niemann says, his position is unique.
“OIOS investigators don’t carry weapons. They have little power and ultimately have to submit their findings to their superiors and, at that stage, politics play a more important role than justice,” Niemann says. “It’s a recipe for frustration. Sometimes he has local allies and he can always rely on his daughter, who manages the Africa desk of a major freight company, to uncover background information. In the end he succeeds, because he is stubborn, and his opponents usually underestimate him.”
Niemann is imminently qualified to write this series, having led an international life. He grew up in Germany and moved to the U.S. at 25. And his training and experience are expansive. He has a PhD in International Studies and is a professor of African and International Studies. Armed with that background, he digs deep for authenticity in his books.
“Research for my Vermeulen novels usually start with the annual reports of OIOS,” Niemann says. “Then I take what I read in the news and start piecing together a plausible ‘What if?’ I’m very meticulous about location research, especially if I haven’t been there myself. Fortunately, the internet makes that research a lot easier. Finally, I’ve met a lot of people in my life and I’ve always appreciated the diversity of their experiences. That doesn’t mean they appear in my novels, but they gave me a better sense of what it must feel like to be in their world.”
This is the fourth Vermeulen novel, and Niemann has already written the first draft for the next. After that…?
“We’ll see,” he says. “The world isn’t running out of illicit activities anytime soon.”
The book’s title comes from an old Turkish proverb that says, “There is no right way to do a wrong thing.” In this case, the wrong thing would be to pass up reading NO RIGHT WAY.
Michael Niemann writes crime fiction with a global twist. His protagonist Valentin Vermeulen works as an investigator for the United Nations. Which means he has no gun and no end of problems. He made his first appearance in the story “Africa Always Needs Guns,” which was included in the 2012 MWA Anthology Vengeance, edited by Lee Child. Since then, he’s appeared in three thrillers, Legitimate Business (2017), Illicit Trade (2017) and Illegal Holdings (2018), and a novella, Big Dreams Cost Too Much (2017).
To learn more about Michael and his work, please visit his website.