Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of an unstable coalition government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessman Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with Heng Sarin, a local journalist, Quinlan’s search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia’s bloody past…
Drawing on his experience as a journalist in the 1990’s in South East Asia, Nette succeeds in constructing a highly readable thriller against the backdrop of a country, in this instance Cambodia, in its recovery from one of the most heinous periods of world history. Into this melting pot, comes Max Quinlan, a half Vietnamese, half Australian besmirched ex-cop, on the trail of a missing Australian businessman, Charles Avery, whose sister has comissioned Max to track down her errant brother. On his arrival in Bangkok, a city that bore witness to the end of Max’s police career- Quinlan discovers Avery’s business partner murdered and no sign of the shady gem-dealing shyster that is Charles Avery. Through his less than reputable contacts Quinlan gets wind of Avery hightailing it to Cambodia, and enlisting the help of an ambitious Australian reporter, and his Cambodian translator, Sarin, Quinlan enters a world defined by the socio-political upheaval of its past and into the path of some extrememly mercenary and pretty unpleasant characters as he seeks to discover the whereabouts of the elusive Avery…
I think most of us are familiar with the bloody events that have defined Cambodia’s history through films such as ‘The Killing Fields’ , but throughout the course of this book I learnt a great deal more about the former pervasive grip of the Khmer Rouge, and a country struggling for reunification and peace, after the well documented genocide and the lingering existence of hardline Khmer Rouge foot soldiers. The book is filled with information regarding Cambodia’s years of turmoil which, when being narrated through the experiences of the Cambodian protagonists, is very powerful indeed. Through the character of Sarin and his sister in particular, we gain a huge insight into the tearing apart of Cambodian society and the familial loss that so many citizens encountered, as the era of persecution set in. Nette also effectively references the efforts made to gather all the documentation and first hand accounts of the atrocities as a lasting testament to the evil that men do in their grasp for power. One of the small criticisms, I have of the book, and perhaps this is influenced by Nette’s journalistic background, is that sometimes there is just too much ‘non-fictional’ input, that for me at times, did interupt the natural flow of the story. However, generally I think the strength of the writing resided in Nette’s ability to conjur up the sense of location and atmosphere that formed the backdrop for the thrust of the story. Nette neatly constructs powerful tableaus to the reader from the grubby world of the seedy ex-patriates, to a no holds barred boxing match, to the relentless grind and poverty of rural Cambodia. His grasp of description adds strength to the assured central plotting so as a reader you really get a sense of the atmosphere and landscape of the region, especially the jungle terrain and rural outposts controlled by the remaining factions of the Khmer Rouge. In the character of Quinlan and his mixed heritage, Nette also gets the chance to sidestep into the world of Vietnam, and how Quinlan’s upbringing in Australia and the natural suspicion of the Cambodians to his half Vietnamese background, has influenced and defined his life and people’s reactions to him. Throughout the book Quinlan is depicted as a tough and resilient man, but imbued with a sense of morality that lays him bare in his defence of others. I enjoyed the gradual trusting relationship that developed across cultural boundaries between him and Cambodian translator Sarin, and thought this realistically portrayed.
The overall plotting was good and the story, with the intermittent hiatus into Cambodian history, was very engaging for the reader, as Quinlan comes up against and takes on, some very sinister and violent individuals in his search for Avery. The plot does veer off a little at the end into an almost Indiana Jones quest, and I found the ending a tad abrupt, but neither of these minor criticisms was enough for me to leave the book with a feeling of disatisfaction when viewed in the light of the strength of what had gone before. I would definitely recommend this thriller to other readers and on this showing, Nette is an author that I would happily seek out again and another welcome addition to the Australian crime stable.
Andrew Nette, is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia, with a fascination for crime fiction and film, obscure pulp novels and all things Asian. He lived in Southeast Asia for six years in the nineties, based in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. During that time he worked as a journalist, and as a communications consultant for the United Nations and a number of non-government organisations. He has since travelled frequently in Asia and lived in Phnom Penh with his family for a year in 2008, where he wrote for the international news wire, Inter Press Service, and worked on a European television documentary on the international tribunal into the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. Find out more about the author here:http://www.pulpcurry.com/ Andrew is also one of the founders of Crime Factory Publications, a Melbourne-based small press specialising in crime fiction, and helps edit Crime Factory, its on-line magazine, which appears four times a year: http://www.thecrimefactory.com/
An interview with Andrew Nette: http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2012/09/interview-andrew-nette/
Check out a great review of ‘Ghost Money’ here: http://houseleaguefiction.com/2013/01/06/review-ghost-money-by-andrew-nette/ and at Fair Dinkum Crime: http://fairdinkumcrime.com/category/author/andrew-nette/
(‘Ghost Money’ is published by Snubnose Press and I read the book in Kindle format)