“The Fever Tree” by Richard Mason. The author of “The World of Susie Wong” returns with a similar novel that takes place in India and Napal instead of Hong Kong. Major Ronald Birkett of England is a cad. He uses people for his own gain. Ex British military, now a secret communist, he is a professional writer (the main character in Susie Wong was an amateur artist); he is also an assassin, and his job is to kill the Nepalese king. While in Delhi, India he meets Lakshmi Kapoor, an unhappy married woman looking for a fling with an Englishman. She falls in love with Birkett, who dismisses her affection, not relishing the idea of love. However, he slowly begins to fall in love with the beautiful Indian girl, and she becomes a distraction, while British intelligence might be on his trail. He sets up the kill using a local Indian Embassy official, a young married man, and father of two, with communist ties. The plan is to have the young man assassinate the king while he, Birkett, is elsewhere. The fever tree is Birkett’s dream of the African plain where he is a cheetah, a sleek, strong predator. This was another interesting story by Mason, but lacks the beauty of “The World of Susie Wong”, as well as the unforgettable characters from the earlier book. More literary than men’s action novel, it is still a good read.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Sueno & Bascom #2: “Slicky Boys” by Martin Limon. Army CID agents, Sgt. George Sueno and Sgt. Ernie Bascom work out of 8th Army Headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. In this second case, Sueno is now a corporal. Maybe he lost a stripe after the last case, but Bascom is still a sergeant. Still, it’s Sueno who leads the investigation. Bascom is merely a sounding board, and sometimes not even that. He really adds nothing to the cases. Plus, they are back together and back in Seoul, after separated and shipped to the DMZ when the last case was over. This time they are rooked into carrying a message to Cicil Whitcomb of the British Honor Guard for Miss Ku. When Whitcomb turns up murdered it throws suspicion on the CID boys, and they are hell-bent to solve the case. Even to the point of disobeying military orders and disobeying the Korean National Police. It is a good mystery, with lots of twists, but I just can’t accept these men as actual CID agents. I’ve known many from Korea to Europe, and the US in my twenty-year career as an Army military police NCO, but none acted like this pair. It’s almost like these men are civilian private detectives, doing what they want, when they want, and no one can stop them. The CID is better organized than this, and their agents work together, not against each other. Plus, they would have a superior Warrant Officer in charge of them, not the 1st Sergeant. Okay, with that said, if you like a good mystery, you will like this. Just don’t mistake these slouches as real CID. The “slicky boys” organization does play a small part in this yarn, but they’re not the real focus of the mystery. The killer is a rogue American naval officer (AWOL), a well-trained SEAL, acting on his own for the North Koreans. And the plot - to pass on top secret information on placement of atomic bombs in mountains between the south and north by the American Forces, to use in case North Korea again crosses the 38th into South Korea. I should say, unguarded nukes, at that. The locations are only known by the general command – unless the killer can get the info north. Can you imagine unguarded nukes between the north and south, and just how long that would remain secret? Please. America’s power is in its delivery system, not left unguarded where someone might – and could – stumble upon them! The author knows Korea; I’ll give him that. It is said that you must suspend your imagination to enjoy fiction. Perhaps, but I prefer some semblance of reality to any world I enter. Good mystery, good characterization (just not accurate), and will keep the reader turning the pages.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Brandon's Chase by Stephen Cord: Joe Brannan and his boat, the Betty, are hired by three university types to search for possible areas to create artificial reefs along Thailand’s coast; however, it turns out they are really CIA. The Navy has lost a super weapon, and it is thought to be somewhere near the coast of Pattaya. Problems arise when a local Korean smuggler steals the weapon before the team can retrieve it, and now it’s heading for China en route to North Korea.
There is lots of action from the very beginning, as the Koreans kill two CIA agents and capture the third, framing Brannan for the murders. Joe is forced to run before the Thai police can arrest him, and now he needs to take the CIA woman away from her Korean captors to prove his innocence, but that isn’t going to be easy.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Rick Shaw #1: “Hang Me In Hong Kong” by Earl Norman (Norman Thompson). Private-eye, Rick Shaw, Asia’s answer to a combination of James Bond and Mike Hammer, that is, if these two gentlemen also knew kung fu. Rick is Oxford educated, and his actual name is Richard Shaw II (I’m not sure where the II comes from, his father’s name was James). He is the scion of a wealthy family, and provided he behaves himself, his mama gives him a cool million every birthday. Rick doesn’t need the money from his private eyeing, he does it as a hobby, and only if there’s a woman involved in the case. A young man of basic non-violence, Rick solves his cases as he delivers death and destruction with Oriental finesse and smooth action.
Richard Shaw is the offspring of an English father, James Muir Shaw of Scotland Yard (now dead) and a Chinese mother, Li Kung-yah, daughter of merchant and opium distributor, who is autocratic and filthy rich. Richard quickly becomes Rick Shaw (a play on rickshaw) – playboy, lover, man-about-town and collector of erotica and beautiful women.
The case begins when a nightclub stripper, Rococo Baroque, comes to his apartment for help, and then drugs him before he can seduce her. Police Superintendent, Claude Bawls shows up to warn Rick to stay off the case, but we know he won’t. In the meantime, billionaire mother is trying to find a girl to settle Rick down – in marriage. Mama knows best.
At one point Rick Shaw mentions a previous case, “Dash Me In Bangla”, but this is the only novel in the series ever published. I’m sure the author planned others, however. The plot is evasive. The first half of the book is dedicated to Shaw’s extensive sexual escapades, which he finds colorful metaphors to describe, like baseball games, etc.
The plot is a merry-go-round that doesn’t make any sense until the end. Rick Shaw comes across as a sexual predator more than a detective of any note. Nor do we see any kung fu or martial arts of any sort until the final chapters. But it does work in the end, and everything comes together nicely. Unfortunately, this is no Burns Bannion, and no rousing karate fights with the bad guys, but given time I think Norman could have improved on the character.
The plot was two-fold, a blackmailer and a Chinese communist rebel escaping from China. It was the mysterious goings-on that brought Rick into the case in the beginning, and his mother, the Moon Princess who brings the case to a close. But Rick winds up with the girl, and I won’t reveal which one, as even I had my doubts with this one. A fun read, only lacking in the martial arts from his previous series. Norman Thompson was a black belt in karate, and his “Kill Me In …” series was filled with fight scenes. “Hang Me In Hong Kong” was not.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Jimm Juree #1: “Killed At The Whim of A Hat” by Colin Cotterill. Jimm Juree is an out of work reporter who has just moved with her family to the village of Maprao, on the coast of southern Thailand. There is a lot happening in this 374-page murder mystery, including skeletons discovered in a VW van buried on a farmer’s property, plus the murder of an abbot at the temple. Jimm’s mother’s dog has been poisoned, and renters have stolen everything out the room they were staying in. Wanting her name back in press, Jimm investigates the mysteries, while trying to stop her mother, Mair, from killing the person that killed her dog. In the first half of the book we not only learn about the two big mysteries, but we get to meet Jimm’s family and the town folks, as well as the local police. Although we don’t see a lot of action, this is more literary than noir, the writing is entertaining, and the characters are fun. Each chapter begins with a quote from President George W. Bush, taken from one of his speeches. Jimm’s dissertation at university was to select a famous speaker, and she was stuck with America’s ex-president (I loved the quotes). The murder of the abbot will take many turns, before the surprising case comes to a close. However, the mystery of the submerged VW van with two skeletons doesn’t truly end till the final pages and it, too, has a few surprises. A fun story, and highly recommended.