Friday, November 23, 2012
Bangkok Express is a Bloody Good Ride November 23, 2012
By Ismael Galvan
Pulp writer James A. Newman gives us a guided tour into the criminal underground of Bangkok, Thailand in Bangkok Express. It's a tropical pulp fiction with an international cast of characters caught in a spider web of corruption, with coldblooded murder for cash at the center. Newman's depiction of Bangkok makes the city come alive in all its beautiful savagery. It is a strange place that is both burning with poverty and drowning with dirty money. There's no such thing as corruption in Bangkok. You either swim with the sharks or get eaten by piranhas. If you got no money, you'll get no mercy. Bangkok, baby, hope you're ready.
The book opens up with one of the most uniquely depicted murder scenes I've ever read. Newman portrays the act of murder in a way that I can only refer to as a work of art. It's a style in which panic, adrenaline, fear, and confusion exist in a vacuum. From the first chapter I knew I was hooked on this savage tale. This book is definitely a fast paced thriller, and the only time you ever get to relax is in some sleazy sex mall with Thai ladyboys offering a cheap walk on the wild side. Or perhaps you would care for a comfy couch, a little pipe perhaps? Fear in Loathing in Bangkok, why not? This book definitely has that Hunter Thompson "gonzo" quality.
I especially enjoyed the brand of characters that were caught up in the mix. Together they formed just the right formula for everything to go to hell in a hand basket. Put up a couple million British pounds up for grabs, and let the backstabbing begin. In some ways Bangkok Express is a bit of a demented comedy. There's some character dialogue that really captures the essence of dark humor that pulp fiction is loved for. How Newman's characters manage a good laugh with a gun shoved in their face is commendable. Although the plot can get a little tricky with so many players off completing their piece of the puzzle, the story stays tight and never becomes messy (that is until somebody's brain gets a bullet massage).
I'd recommend this book to all you crime lovers out there. All the sick minds that can appreciate murder with a little bit of irony sprinkled over it and a splash of tropical paradise. The book does push the cheese factor on a few occasions, but I guess things just have their own way of unfolding in Bangkok. Newman lives in Thailand; he's seen (and done) some stuff that we can only guess. It's that firsthand experience that gives Bangkok Express that genuine gritty authenticity. Sniff hard enough and you can suck in the smells of diesel fumes and fresh mangos, and have the pink glare of neon lights softly stinging your eyes. According to his bio on bangkokbooks.com, he's currently working on another book while awaiting the apocalypse. Now that's the kind of attitude that produces books worth reading.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Having lived in Thailand - man and boy - for over twelve years, and having written about the city myself, for my money Sukhumvit Road by David Young is one of the most entertaining and rewarding reads set in the City of Sin. The novel centers around Bami, a bargirl who has more than a few admirers. These devotees include an alcoholic writer, a lapsed preacher, a hardened criminal, a hopelessly naive school teacher and a burnt out cynical Bangkok bar owner. These colorful characters all gravitate around Bami and her place of work - Sukhumvit Road. The place of dreams and nightmares. Trapped in their own suspended disbeliefs, private hells, lost in the mess they have orchestrated for themselves they all believe that she, Bami, just might be the answer to their prayers, dreams, bar fines...
As with much of Young's work the conflict is the cultural difference. Love and commerce. Money and hope. Us and them. The humor is often intelligent, sometimes slapstick, always amusing. The style is easy, light-hearted, fun. It is a page-turner. Nothing too heavy. I've reread the novel four or five times picking up something new each time.
What makes this book stand out among Young's others is one thing. One important thing. In this novel there is a fully developed antagonist - the bug-eyed Frye Frisk. The devil with a passport. The sex-pat tourist gone extreme. The kind of character that Dana could have written. Frisk is without a doubt the strongest character in the book. One that Sukhumvit Road homeboys can fully identify with. A masterful creation...
The novel at over 400 pages is Young's most adventurous work and I think by far his best.
Essential reading for those interested in the genre of Bangkok fiction.