This review was written by John Daysh of Thailand Writing and Book Reviews
There is no doubt in my mind that James Newman is the next big thing in the genre of Bangkok-Thailand Literature. He is the real deal. Newman’s first novel, Bangkok Express, is compelling proof of this, despite its flaws. It is now available to the public as an e-book having been previously rejected by print publishers when Newman refused, on artistic grounds, to re-write or edit it. That may appear indulgent and naïve and it probably was given that Newman was just twenty-four and full of youthful naivety when he wrote it. But a good writer, which James Newman undoubtedly is, should not be eternally condemned by a first novel.
Given that some years later Newman has given the go ahead to have his un-edited manuscript published as an e-book, I get the impression that despite its structural and editorial deficiencies he is confident that it stands as proof that he is a very good writer; confident that the uncritical reader would either not recognize or easily overlook the defects, and that the critical reader would forgive the flaws in light of the evidence of literary excellence and promise. He must have done this knowing he has much more up his sleeve. Having read Bangkok Express I can easily forgive this naivety knowing he has gone on to write much better. Newman himself now admits that he would tear Bangkok Express apart if asked to edit it. It stands as it is or will be destroyed. When I finished reading it I was glad I had the opportunity, as behind this story lies an excellent writer and this is apparent at every turn of the page.
When another famous Bangkok writer was asked which of his books was his favorite he said it was impossible to say - that they were all like sickly children and he loved them all because they were his creations despite their weaknesses. Bangkok Express is a bit like a sickly child. Newman can see the illness within, but he loves it as it stands and even as it sometimes stumbles. It is a part of him and a part of his development as a writer.
Bangkok Express is the story of a young Private Detective sent from London to Thailand to examine a suspected insurance fraud masterminded by a Samui Police Chief in cahoots with the wealthiest landowner on the island. With the help of a bar owner, a fake doctor, a stunning mia noi, a hard-living expat insurance broker and an exotic bird, he takes on what a sane man would not. In the mean time he discovers all is not what it seems in the Land of Smiles, which seems to suit him just fine.
Bangkok Express is a great story full of fantastic writing but it is not a great novel. It is the work of a talented young man learning his trade. Novel writing is an ‘on the job education’ and I am sure James Newman would not dispute this. Polished? No. A good read? Yes. A sniff of future brilliance? Most certainly. And this is why it is well worth reading. The word on Sukhumvit Road is that he has just signed up with an established Western publishing house and his latest novel will be released with full fanfare in 2012. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.
Reviewed by John Daysh
Thailand Writing and Book Reviews