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.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Monday, January 14, 2013
"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."
- You can read the rest of the review by picking up a copy of the Pattaya Mail or checking out their website. Or even better pick up a copy of the book and judge for yourselves...
Friday, January 11, 2013
"Disaster follows You wherever You go," she laughed.
"Well, it sure looks that way, baby," he aswered.
He made a promise - he broke it.
And promises made in THAT specific Thai temple are better not to be broken.
So Johnny "Coca-Cola", Kat the bargirl and the whole town of Krung Thep aka Bangkok will find themselves in the worst nightmare an author is able to create for his readers.
continue reading below
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
If James A. Newman's writing was music and he was a musician instead of a writer, I would tell you he can flat out play for long stretches but occasionally hits the wrong notes, for me. The problem is I feel like I have been thrown into the mosh pit at a grunge concert, where everybody around me is having a great time, but I am feeling like the Lone Ranger because my tastes run closer to the William Tell Overture. What I liked about Lizard City is the character, Kat. I was curious about her and my curiosities got answered. Good one. Johnny Coca Cola (Love the name change) was also a good character. But a match made in hell is sometimes better than a match made in purgatory. When in doubt an old fart like me asks: WWHD? What would Hemingway do? Save the $5 words for where they are needed. Hell can do without them, in my opinion. There was a line akin to: "An obese tourist sat outside." I want that tourist described to me. I want him described to me in such a way that I go on a diet tomorrow. Bangkok's full of great writers and I have started more than one diet based on the accurate description of a fat farang that hit a little too close to home. The Buddhist stuff, great. Rama references I liked. I am never keen on characters that are writers. The only thing the world has more of than writers is critics - so if I am going to read something, I'd like the writer to use his imagination more. And my bias goes all the way to the top. As beautiful a writer as Tim Hallinan is, I am not that keen on his protagonist, because he is a travel writer. Give me a shoe salesman, a Buddhist cop, a man named Sue, anything but not another writer. All in all, there was much to like. But the music was a little too loud for my tastes and the style not quite to my liking. That doesn't mean the composer isn't talented. Keep on playing. The rain drops have stopped.