Bangkok Bob, the latest novel from Stephen Leather, is on the shelves. Leather is a prolific writer with eight titles in his Dan Shepherd series, two in his Jack Nightingale Supernatural series, 14 other thrillers, plus his retelling of the episodes of Warren Olson called Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye and his iconic Private Dancer which I described as being, “The best book regarding the relationships with bar girls that you can ever read. This should be compulsory reading for all first-timers to Thailand.”
Bangkok Bob (ISBN 978-0-9566203-0-9, Three Elephants publishing 2011) seems to sit somewhere within the Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye with the plot being that of an American amateur sleuth (Bangkok Bob), but one who can speak both Thai and Khmer fluently (as did the Warren Olson PI in ‘Confessions’). I was left wondering at the end as to whether the plot was something left over from ‘Confessions’ which Leather had extended, resulting in a fairly slim volume of 245 pages.
The principal character is Bob Turtledove, who is introduced as an antique dealer in Bangkok who has people with problems referred to him by the American Embassy. Considering that the American Embassy is one of the more paranoid outposts of America, the reader has to gloss over that and accept that a Mormon couple could be referred to the antique dealer with a good heart by their officials.
The plot unfolds as Bangkok Bob goes looking for the Mormon couple’s son, another dutiful Mormon, who seems to have disappeared in Bangkok’s city of 12 million souls.
Leather places the book right in the Sukhumvit area, and Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy get their rightful mentions, as the usual ploy to give some credibility and substance to what is, after all, a work of fiction. The book also spends much time in a bar/restaurant called ‘Fatso’s run by ‘Big Ron’ who sits on a large reinforced chair. This is obviously Jools and Big Dave, and I wonder why Leather chose to be so oblique, when the real names would have held much more weight. Another example was the Santika nightclub fire which ends up being called the Kube.
The quest to find the young missing Mormon takes the reader to a Russian proprietor of an English language school who it appears is using the school as a laundry for rubles.
The reader is also taken through upper echelon police, Hi-So and schoolgirl prostitution.
I have enjoyed Stephen Leather’s writing in the past. He has a great eye for detail, with the first paragraph of ‘Bangkok Bob’, for example, opening with a description of the archetypal Bangkok Hi-So lady, complete with a Versace silk blouse, a Rolex watch (diamond studded), Gucci sunglasses and the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton handbag.
At B. 430 on the Bookazine shelves it is an inexpensive light read suitable as an aircraft novel. For me, this was not one of Leather’s best, though still head and shoulders above the usual expat lives in Bangkok books. Leather’s understanding of the Thai psyche and Thai society is also well demonstrated in this book.