A first time novel for Bangkok based James A. Newman. Bangkok Express (ISBN 978-1-4092-7754-5, Spanking Pulp Press, 2012) arrived on the reviewer’s table and as such became the final book to be reviewed last year.
It is a very “Thai” book with the action centered around Koh Samui and Bangkok, but the title does not make itself obvious until the last chapter. It follows a well-trod path of introducing the main characters individually and then showing the interaction between them all. There are not many surprises as each has his or her own agendas which are firmly fixed in the plot, though there are a couple of twists towards the end that are not so predictable.
Author Newman has an eye for detail and the ability to put that detail down in print. The opening page has a young back-packer with an imitation diamond nose stud which he describes as, “All the travelers had them. Collective individuality.” Further on he writes of bar girls, “… they landed in the bar and became confidence tricksters using their wits and their lips as the bait. They became a game of cards and a gold bracelet.”
I particularly liked the description of the matriarch of the family as being capable of future predictions though “some said this was just fruit born from a front row seat at the theatre of humanity for almost 100 years.”
This book is a novel, and as such an article of fiction; however, that fiction should not stray too far from what is credible (unless it is sci-fi, of course). That a British chap could fabricate a medical degree from a pseudo-college in the US is hard to swallow, but for him to then use that spurious degree to get medical registration in Thailand is hardly feasible, and for this “doctor” to work in a Thai government hospital doing surgical procedures is frankly unbelievable.
The pace begins right from the start, though does slow in the middle of the book while the characters jostle for your opinion, and at times, help. In particular the detective who is fighting drugs and alcoholism, where each day is another step forward, but does not happen without extremes of self discipline, especially since he was now without a support group in Thailand.
Principal members of the cast include Thai brothers, one who has garnered all the trappings of wealth and position, whilst the other had only risen to the very mediocre heights of petty thieving and small scams. Jealousy then splits the family unit, but circumstances keep bringing it back together. Author Newman uses this to great effect.
However, the biggest problem I had with this book was that it needed a good sub-editor. Too many literals Mr Spanking Pulp Press – there is also a huge difference between “mediate” and “meditate”, for example. I do believe that James Newman’s next book will be better, but that does not mean that his first book here is not ‘good’, though it can be improved. At B. 399 in Bookazine stores, it is not an expensive read and nicely fills a rainy weekend.