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Book Review

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Book Review: Zero Hour in Phnom Penh

by Lang Reid

Another (re)release from Christopher G. Moore, with Zero Hour in Phnom Penh (ISBN 974-93035-9-8, Heaven Lake Press) which was originally published as ‘Cut Out’ in 1994. This book was last year’s winner of the German Critics Award for Crime Fiction, following its translation from Moore’s native English.

Begin reading and it gets you in immediately. Just the author’s introduction, ‘Genocide to Latte’ is a three page pr้cis of a decade of change in Cambodia, one that defies logic in many ways, but as the Khmer woman he quotes says, “Time walks fast.” This is apparently very much so in Cambodia. (Interestingly, in the wake of comparisons between the use of English in Cambodia, and the deficiencies in the much more otherwise advanced country of Thailand, this helps make this reprint even more topical.)

The book is another in Moore’s Vincent Calvino series, the rather jaundiced private eye residing in Bangkok, who has either seen it, been it, done it or had one. Of course Calvino’s friend, the Thai policeman, is also there. This man, known as Colonel Pratt is bicultural, and in asides you are given glimpses of both cultures and how one single event can be interpreted in more ways than one, depending upon which side of the cultural divide one stands.

Christopher Moore is surgically incisive in his descriptions of people, stripping away the imagined and producing the reality. Even though this is a work of fiction, the people are recognizable. Try, “(He) had one of those farang faces charcoal-broiled over the flames, fueled by years of failures, regrets and passions.” Just how many of those have you met recently!

Calvino is hired to find an American who is apparently involved in illegal arms sales between Cambodia and Thailand; however, when he begins his search, he very quickly finds that he is not the only one looking for the mysterious Mike Hatch, as unknown to him, his friend Colonel Pratt is on the trail of the well publicized Saudi jewelry heist that has embarrassed the Thai authorities for many years, and is Hatch involved?

A swag of characters is brought in, as Calvino begins trawling through the muck that is Phnom Penh in the rainy season, as the UNTAC Land Cruisers slosh through what was left of the country. A bra-burning American journalist, a French lady doctor and a few Vietnamese prostitutes fill in some spaces on one side, while an Irish policeman, an Indian UN peace-keeper, and expat flotsam and jetsam amply fill out the other.

Another great read from Christopher Moore, and well worth the B. 595 to claim it for yourself. If you are a Vinee Calvino fan, this is for you. If you enjoy who dunnits, this is also the book for you. Well crafted story and plot, and all the usual Christopher Moore attention to detail. One day the cinematographers will stumble across Moore’s work, as all his Vinee Calvino series books would make the basis for some brilliant movies. Fast paced, culturally different, geographically interesting and convoluted plots. The Germans have found the written word, the movie houses must follow.


Mott's CD Reviews: Mambo Sons - Racket of Three

5 Stars *****

Pawed by Mott the Dog
Re-chewed by Ella Crew

Under the banner of ‘Mambo Sons’ Tom Guerra and Scott Lawson have issued three fabulous CDs. Firstly, there was the self titled debut ‘Mambo Sons’ (1999), a good rock ‘n’ roll album laying down the gauntlet of proper music, none of those tape loops for these boys. By the time of the second album ‘Play Some Rock & Roll’ the boys had really hit their stride, and for their pains ‘Play Some Rock & Roll’ was voted best independent release of the year by the prestigious NY Rock Magazine. (I can tell you without a doubt it will definitely be Mott the Dog’s album of the year this year.)

Now in 2005 we are given ‘Racket of Three’ which sees the boys now all out at a full speed musical gallop. This album simply wipes the floor with any of its contemporaries over the last few years.

Since the last album, the line up of ‘Mambo Sons’ has changed a little. Mike Hayden has slipped off the drum stool to make way for the very impressive Joe (The Cat) Lemieux, whilst with the departure of Jeff Keithline on bass, Scott Lawson has simply strapped on the bass himself and taken over the four string, allowing the Mambo’s a very timeless sound, giving you the impression that Scott may have admired the odd bass line from Ronnie Lane of the ‘Faces’ or Andy Fraser of ‘Free’. Which now gives you ‘The Racket Of Three’.

As soon as opening song ‘Play Some Rock & Roll (She’s Comin’ Over)’ starts up with some bristling guitar riffs from Tom Guerra, your attention is grabbed, your foot starts to tap, and most embarrassingly of all you start to try and sing-a-long to the words on the first time you hear it. By the time Scott Lawson sings at exactly one minute forty eight seconds into the first song, ‘’Yeah; And I just gotta say WAAAAAAHHH” before Tom Guerra comes in with the first of his guitar solo’s that will peel the wallpaper from your room, you just know that you are listening to something very special.

This is not music for little boys and girls, this is the stuff of men and their ladies; here is music that Keith Richards and Johnny Depp would put on if they were having a party.

After the opening blast of ‘Play Some Rock & Roll (She’s Comin’ Over)’ you get ‘Valentine’ which starts off with a little acoustic guitar introduction, but don’t be fooled by this and the title - the band soon swaggers into the chorus. There are no thoughts of taking their audience to school from the Mambo’s, they just sing songs from their big old Connecticut hearts. There is nothing wrong with knowing what a song is about by just looking at the title, that’s allowed these boys to let the music do the talking for them. Each song on the album has it’s own identity, some with a lighter feel, some as heavy as an anvil, the one thing they have in common is that the Mambo groove flows through it’s veins.

‘Mr Rebound’ is quite delightful, whilst ‘Sidewinder Walk’ is a great song in itself which has a false ending which then allows the guitars to really kick up their heels. ‘You Broke My Mind’ shows off that oft forgotten musical skill of smashing bottles, and includes the immortal line “Now I’ve got whisky breathe, but you’ve got half a mind.”

You could put this CD on from start to finish at any party, and the only thing you would have to do at the end is push play again. It’s that good.

As well as holding down the bass playing responsibilities, Scott Lawson gives a vocal tour de force throughout the entire collection, showing off a wide range of throats, mostly very buoyant, with a nuance of audacity, getting down and dirty with the guitar work of his partner on ‘Been Out Of Touch’, but often as well very tongue in cheek. Then this is a rock ‘n’ roll album, and it is supposed to be fun.

Joe (“The Cat”) Lemieux was an excellent choice of drummer: he is very unselfish, leaving each song with plenty of space, playing in the same way as Charlie Watts does for the Rolling Stones. Tom Guerra is one of America’s most respected guitarists, but for ‘Racket of Three’ he really pulls out all of the stops, playing like an axe hero when required, although by no means dominating any song, adding some great slide guitar to ‘Be On Time’. But his greatest asset to the Mambo’s is his ability to switch styles to suit each individual song. Of course his whistle playing on ‘Rummy Hop’ should not be overlooked.

Mambo Sons are definitely a guitar orientated rock ‘n’ roll band, but when they do call for a little tinkling of the ivories, only the best will do, and a special bow should taken by Andre Balas whose barrel house piano on ‘Play Some Rock & Roll (She’s Comin’ Over)’ is nothing short of superb, whilst elsewhere Matt Zeiner does an excellent job fitting in beautifully with the Mambo’s.

It is impossible to listen to The Mambo Sons without a great big cheese eating grin spreading across your face, which is what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be all about. They maybe a racket of three, but a very fine racket it is to.

This is all about rockin’ guitar, bass, drums, throat, and songs; who can possibly want more than that? For more information on the wonderful Mambo’s please look up their website at www.mambosons.com. This is music to enjoy.

The thing I don’t understand is - why is their second album called ‘Play Some Rock & Roll’ but this record has a song on it with that same title? Odd really...

Musicians

Tom Guerra: Guitars, Vocals, Bottle Smashing, Whistles, and when he was very quiet some keyboards
Scott Lawson: Bass and Lead Throat
Joe (“The Cat”) Lemieux: Drums and Shaking Things
Matt Zeiner: Keyboards including Piano, and Goff Professional Hammond B-3
Andre Balazs: Piano on “Play Some Rock & Roll

Songs
Play Some Rock & Roll (She’s Comin’ Over)
Valentine
Man Of Steel
Brandy On The Shelf
Be On Time
Sidewinder Walk
You Broke My Mind
Delta Slide
Mr. Rebound
Rummy Hop
Been out of Touch
Safe With Me

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.mott-the-dog.com