Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore

Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore
Grove Press/Black Cat
July 2010

Having stumbled upon this series of novels completely by accident with a random choice of The Risk of Infidelity Index while on vacation last month, I fell in deep like with the main character of this series of books, Vincent Calvino, and wanted more. So my thanks go to Grove Press for sending me an ARC of Asia Hand, which will be published in the US in July of this year. And of course, I have to thank the author, Christopher G. Moore, who I think took pity on me after I offered to lobby in person to have more of his books published here to satisfy my Calvino cravings. After reading Risk of Infidelity Index (9) and now Asia Hand (2), I finally got around to buying the first book in the series Spirit House. As I noted in an earlier post, this is a huge deal because I am currently under a self-imposed book-buying moratorium (to deal with the nagging guilt eating at me to read more of what I already own) until the end of this month. But Calvino is worth the added sense of guilt in breaking my promise to myself. Sigh. Oh well, I digress as usual.

Asia Hand is a well-crafted piece of modern noir fiction set in Bangkok, the home of ex-pat and ex-New Yorker Vincent Calvino. Calvino makes his living as a private investigator, and he finds himself embroiled in a crime that starts with the death of one his American friends, Hutton.  Hutton is a young free-lance cameraman, a loser who doesn't get much work thrown his way, so when he is offered the chance to work on a movie at the border of Thailand and Burma, he jumps at it.  Soon afterwards, Hutton is found dead in a lake at Lumpini Park. There is only a single clue left at the scene:  a necklace made of several amulets. Calvino is summoned by his friend Pratt (Col. Prachai Chongwatana, a high-ranking police official fond of quoting Shakespeare), and thus begins his investigation into Hutton's death which  leads him down some dark alleyways and closer to home than he ever thought possible.

The crime is well plotted, intricate and intelligent, weaving up and down different paths that all ultimately converge into a clever solution.  However, what makes this book work is Moore's insights into the interactions between ex-pats/ foreigners (farangs) in Thailand and the Thai people -- not just at the level of officialdom, but also down at street level with the bargirls. There are also several funny moments in this book, especially in the chapter with the explanations of the differences between first and third shifters. I must admit that I laughed out loud reading this part.

Calvino's character is well fleshed out, considering that this is only book two of the series. While he's a very no-nonsense kind of detective, and will stick to a problem like a pit bull, he also has a heart.  Calvino lives by a set of laws (for example, this one: "Whenever someone says 'you must believe me,' the chances are greater than 50 percent he's lying through his teeth.") and he has been in Thailand long enough to understand the way things work there even though life in Bangkok is filled with contradictions.

What I've read of the series is great and beats the pants off of most crime fiction sitting on the shelves of my local bookstore. It's also very different from a lot of what's out there which is definitely a plus.  If you like noir fiction, or if you enjoy intelligent crime fiction set in an exotic locale, you might want to try this one when it's released. You also have the side benefit of learning something about Thailand its people, culture and politics from someone who lives there.  This author can write and he does it well.  I will say that if you have a problem with alternative names for human body parts or with the use of 4-letter words in books, you may not want to pick this one up. Nothing cutesy here...just down and dirty gritty crime in a steamy climate.

and now...let's get those other books published here!

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