|Sept/Oct 1999 Book Reviews|
Allen & Unwin, 1999 398pp
ISBN: 1 86448 0989 8
The best reviewer for this book would be male, American, a lover of political thrillers about corrupt, unstable, preferably foreign, governments, and a fantasiser about sex with oriental beauties. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as I happen to think) I fit none of these criteria. But I will do my best.
The main action of the book moves back and forth between Thailand and America, with side trips to a few other exotic locations. The time is the 1950s, just before the Vietnam War. Thailand is in the throes of "yet another" military coup and Stephen Brasch, a young Harvard-educated lawyer, has just arrived in Bangkok. Steven has come to help administer Rockerfeller Foundation aid money. He wants to "do good".
Howard Moss, an Australian hydraulics engineer, has also just arrived. He is employed as a consultant by an American firm which is helping Bangkok to solve its transport and water problems by filling in the klongs (canals) on which the city is built.
Brasch and Moss are soon involved with the seductive Tiem:
"There was an ambiguity about Tiem, a trickiness. It was part of the excitement she gave off...there were layers of her which had to be peeled back, borders to be crossed, one by one, before the depths could be known, Something specifically Asian perhaps?"
Hmm! Another inscrutable Asian? Anyway, whilst Moss is the perfect gentleman (poor sap!), Brasch loses no time crossing the borders. By his second night in Bangkok (page 66, to be exact) Brasch is in bed with Tiem learning the Thai words for 'breast', 'vagina', 'penis', and so on.
Sex with honey-skinned Asian beauties and the teasing question of the mysterious "butterfly fuck" crop up at regular intervals, in between bloody and violent deaths (Asian, of course), corporate shenanegins, conspiracy theories, heavy boozing and occasional, quasi-philosophical musings about bribery, philanthropy and the importance of keeping a "rich heart".
Brasch, Honest-John lawyer that he is, discovers corruption on a major scale and feels duty bound to expose it. He causes more violent deaths, inclucing Tiem's, but he saves Thailand from certain disaster.
It's all good macho fantasy and about as artifical as expatriate life in Asian business communities tends to be. After a slow start whilst Krauth rather ponderously sets the scene, the acion picks up pace and, if your reading taste runs closer to the offerings of Ian Fleming than to those of John le Carré, then you may well enjoy this book.