The Black Gentlemen of Trong Suan is an intriguing title for this self-published book written by John McMahon, about whom the book gives the reader no clues. Again intriguing.
It begins with the diary entries of a retired British manager, and a bachelor. On a previous trip he meets the girl of his dreams. Young, university trained and one that our expat is sure he will happily live with forever after.
In his diary he wonders at the other expats he meets who seem to hate the Thais, start drinking at 8 a.m. and generally despise the native life and customs. He is the opposite, revelling in the unspoiled jungle and the sea where he shows his complete metamorphosis by skinny dipping.
However, that idyllic metamorphosis does not last, and he assumes a new persona where he drinks at 8 a.m. and learns to hate the native population and joins the loose group of mainly British expats that meets every two weeks. These settlers call themselves the Black Gentlemen, feeling that they are similar to the black population in the British Isles – aliens and outnumbered.
As the degradation of the expat continues unabated, the reader is left thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I”. In some ways quite terrifying in the accuracy of his thumbnail sketches.
This diary ends one quarter of the way through the book, and it then becomes more of a narrative, still with the Black Gentlemen and their adopted home as the central characters.
Into this outpost of expat misfits comes the mysterious newcomer called Crispas, a young man skilled in physical pursuits, handy with spanners and with a beautiful girlfriend in tow. He does not fit the mold of the Black Gentlemen.
The plot is wonderfully detailed. Author McMahon obviously understanding and recording all the subtle nuances of village life, as well as those of the expat society. You will find that you can relate to all these Black Gentlemen, even if the reader does not necessarily sympathize with them. However, the proof reader was not as eagle-eyed, with several literals in the book, “insuring” and “ensuring” being confused.
The back cover proclaims, “A diary changes hands at a dog fight in Burma enticing a young man to the south of Thailand in order to mimic the life of the diarist who retired to Trong Suan in the romance novel fashion with his young fiancée only to be beaten, robbed, debased and sent off like a leprous pervert. The young man who comes into possession of the diary having talent, strength, money and charisma comes to the town and disrupts the delicate balance between the ex patriots and local population causing in the end an orgy of violence and death among over flowing drink, greed-mad looting and charred dog skewers at his own wedding party.”
I enjoyed this book, and the difference between this and others set in rural Thailand is enormous. This may be fiction, but it is no flattering tale. In some ways it reminds me of Dan Dorothy’s Mango Rains with its brutal reality.