5.0 out of 5 stars High Steppin Adventure for Likable Protagonist, Joe Dylan, January 21, 2013
By Jai Roon
Flow. That's the word that kept popping up in my head as I read BANGKOK EXPRESS by James A. Newman. The book flows, nicely. It's a page turner. Good writing in it abounds. Does it cover familiar territory at times? Yes. So what? So does the roller coaster ride in my home town in California but it's still fun to buy a ticket from time to time. Better than saying, "Oh, I rode that, once." The novel, QUEEN OF PATPONG was nominated for The Edgar Award and deservedly so. That book has Bangkok, bars and bar girls too. But good writing is good writing. I don't care if it takes place at The Oriental Hotel dinner table or the toilet of a German Beer Bar.
Quick witted and tough London insurance investigator Joe Dylan has been sent to Thailand to look into the rapid fire deaths of two scuba divers covered for big bucks by a 5 star hotel's insurance policy. Corruption is suspected and Joe's job is to find it. Dylan reminded me of a young Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files T.V. show of the 1970s only with a bit more angst. In the course of his investigation he has to deal with the temptations of Bangkok, successfully for the most part and then get to Koh Samui. Newman has come up with a couple of good bad guys in Thai brothers, Shogun who has brains, property and money and resentful cop brother, Rang.
Other characters include a Muay Thai boxer who doubles as bi-sexual Shogun's love interest, James Hale who has gotten himself into debt with the wrong crowd and Gantira the prerequisite Thai beauty, which I never tire of reading about. I like a book that balances narrative and dialogue and BANGKOK EXPRESS does that. Examples of Dylan's dialogue when he's asked how he likes Bangkok?: "I like the way it surprises me. I like the way that the women are only after my money. I like the heat and I love the pollution. I like the darkness. I like the whiteness. I like the contrasts and the contradictions. I like the way a guy fires a gun at me and another smacks me in the face. The bodybuilders. The whores. I like lizard-skin shoes. What's not to like?"
Equally good is the narrative voice as Newman writes in the Dylan voice as he ponders about Nana Plaza - a subject that has been done a lot, but this still reads well: "It was the last cigarette saloon. The wild east. The last frontier. A debauched utopia. Tourists flocked from all over the world to worship this. Arabs periodically lost their faith for brown thighs and whisky. Japanese lost count of their yen. It was either the best or the worst place on earth - Joe couldn't decide."
This book has good writing all the way through, with some nice surprises at the end. Do I wish it was better edited? Yes, but I feel that way about a lot of the books that come out of Asia. I assume the next one will be. Joe Dylan is working his 12 step program throughout the book and I was OK with that - that's real life. I worked for a non-drinking AA attending attorney for many years. Once a year he took us for Christmas dinner. Every year he asked to look at the wine list. The third year he did this I asked him, why? "I like to know how much money I'm saving", he replied. So now I know, once a year I will have to look at the book list at Asia Books for James A. Newman books. Because I will want to know how much that next book is going to cost me.
And if you are very, very, lucky, James A. Newman all you have to do for the next couple of dozen times over the next twenty-five years is write something even better, next time, each and every time. Enjoy every step of the way. Chok dii.