Escape: The Past
A couple of years ago I reviewed David McMillan’s book Escape, his
story of his escape from the notorious Bangkok Hilton prison. Flushed with
the success of that very readable yarn, he has now come up with a prequel
called Escape: the Past (ISBN 978-981-4358-27-9, Monsoon Books,
Where the first book was written about
his time in the Bangkok prison and his ultimate escape, this new book is an
account of his life leading up to his being caught for drug smuggling. And
it was drug smuggling in a big way. “I’d always preferred to be the suave
French smuggler in ‘The French Connection’ eating a grand meal in a warm
restaurant than poor cop Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) stuck in the rain
chewing on soggy pizza.” (I think he speaks for all of us!)
Author McMillan makes no excuses for
himself, or for others who are habitual law breakers, describing them as
“work shy double crossers itching for a fast buck.” He also described them
as “… people on their way down who demanded company on their journey to the
bottom.” However, he does offer the fact that he had had numerous
‘stepfathers’ so “the idea of respecting and obeying men meant very little
There is no doubt in my mind as to the
excellent standard of prose shown by author McMillan, describing the Irish
settlers in Australia “…third generation Irish whose middle skin still
carries the welt of convict-ship chains and wheals from the King’s weighted
lash and from whose blood the colony’s foundation took cement.” Strong
As per his previous book, McMillan
shows his latest to be an easily read publication. The chapters did not
seem to be quite in chronological order and in a couple there are repeated
passages, indicating that parts of the book had been published before.
Nevertheless, I found it to be quite fascinating (as I did for the UK’s
Howard Marks Mr. Nice) so perhaps I have had dark ambitions in the
past which draws me to the flawed characters in these biographies.
In one chapter he resorts to describing
his life in the third person, a literary device, which quite frankly was not
needed, nor appreciated by me while reviewing the book, as it broke the
thread running through it all.
The see-saw existence between untold
riches, two houses, three cars, five star hotels and all the trappings to
then descend into sleeping on the dirt floor of an abandoned factory does
not faze the drug runners. They just bounce back and do it all again.
David McMillan certainly has the rubber ball character, though does become
somewhat introspective towards the end, wondering in print if it were really
all worth it.
And if you have ever wondered what it
is like coming down from drugs McMillan describes it as follows, “The talons
of some cold-blooded pterodactyl twisting my stomach. Opiates of course.
When only the worst will do.”
The review copy came directly from
Monsoon Books, and I believe the RRP in Asia Books/Bookazine to be B. 495.
A great yarn at that price.
Another crime thriller this week for review. Jake Needham’s earlier
manuscript Tea Money has been expanded and is now under the title
Laundry Man and has been published this year (2012) and is available at
Bookazine Royal Garden Plaza. (ISBN 978-981-4361-27-9, Marshall Cavendish.)
This is one of his Jack Shepherd
series, featuring the ex-US based legal exponent, with the back cover
describing him as - “A lawyer among people who laugh at the law, a friend in
a land where today’s allies are tomorrow’s fugitives, Jack shepherd battles
a global tide of corruption, extortion and murder that threatens to engulf
both him and the new life he has worked so hard to build.” And of course,
corruption fighters (at least in name) are the flavor of the year globally.
Shepherd finds himself drawn deep
inside the machinations of old friends, one of whom was supposed to be dead,
but isn’t. Hired as a financial consultant, you are taken into Hong Kong
boardrooms and registered offices of dodgy banks and other financial
All the usual acronyms such as the
(reputedly) good guys, the FBI, CIA, ASIS, NSC, IRS and DEA turn up in the
plot, though not necessarily main players or in that order, interspersed
with Russian mobs, Burmese drug producers and Chinese generals and
politicians on the take. And many more - you will not be disappointed by
the cast of hundreds, and probably thousands under cover. There is also the
ABC which runs through the plot (and you will have to read this book to find
the meaning of the acronym).
As the pace increases and Jack
Shepherd’s life becomes even more convoluted, author Needham throws in some
black humor to release the tensions every so often. An aged female pilot
called Ike was to fly him to Phuket and Shepherd thinks it is in a glider.
“Grandma Moses here was about to take me flying in an airplane with no
engine. You’re Ike? I asked. No son, I’m the fuckin’ Easter Bunny,” was
Good writers have an “eye” even better
than good photographers. Needham describes an office receptionist in Hong
Kong as “A young Chinese girl slumped over the desk. She had badly permed
hair, skin blotched with acne scars and a dimple in her chin deep enough to
hide Easter eggs.” You can see her immediately.
Characterizations are well handled too,
with the Australian vernacular of one character so correct, I could almost
hear the nasal twang, “…the rest of the time it pays off like a busted pokie
The book has many characters who all
seem to come together at the end of an extremely exciting thriller, which
keeps you guessing right till the end, the very end, and even then you have
At B. 530 for 352 pages, this is a book
you don’t want to finish to spoil your fun and enjoyment. Jake Needham
could have made it 704 pages and I would still be avidly reading. Whether
you are a fan of Needham’s Jack Shepherd series, or just someone who enjoys
a cracking good yarn, this book is for you.
Fairy Tales for Little Children
Children do tend to get ignored by publishers and retail outlets. Look at
the shelf space dedicated to pulp fiction and then try and find the little
corner with a few children’s books. It is obvious where the retailer makes
his or her living.
It also seems to be that the old fairy
tales we were raised upon, are still the favorites today. Just as there has
been a dearth of original music since the Beatles, there appears to be a
dearth of new children’s stories.
Fairy Tales for Little Children
(ISBN 978-0-7460-9822-6, Usborne publishers, 2008) caught my eye in the
Royal Garden Bookazine, for its size, if nothing else. It is a large book,
and contains five fairy tales in its 133 pages. Three are retold stories
from the Brothers Grimm (I have always thought they should have changed
their name to appeal more to the young age group). Four have been retold by
Susanna Davidson and one by Emma Helborough. The illustrations were mainly
by Mike Gordon with the others by Anna Luraschi and Gorgien Overwater.
Despite different illustrators, the styles are quite similar, so the
children will go on the storyline to choose their preferred bed time
The stories are set up to be read by
adults to children, though slightly older children may try to read them too.
The five stories are Little Red
Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three
Bears, The 12 Dancing Princesses and The Frog Prince.
Remember them? I am sure you do.
At B. 630, it is not an inexpensive bed
time story, but the binding looks to be sturdy enough and each page is
printed on good heavy paper stock and each one also in color. It should
last a few years of nocturnal reading.
For children from the age of two years,
magic castles, magicians with magic cloaks to make them invisible; frogs,
wolves, pigs and bears that can talk all inhabit a child’s wonderland, where
the child is unaware of the awful truths that reality brings.
Psychologists will also tell you that
fathers reading bed time stories to children help in the bonding process,
and each story is long enough to watch the little eyes closed, and short
enough that father can keep his eyes open!
Recommended for those who have young
children, or grandparents who look after grandchildren.
Seven Years in Asia - a Wanderer’s Tale
Another book from an ex-pat writer domiciled in Thailand came across the
reviewer’s desk at the end of 2011. Robert Baldwin, a well traveled chap,
has put together his memoirs/anecdotes into one self-published book with the
simple title of Seven Years in Asia.
I have to point out, that as a reviewer
I have an obligation to the reader, rather than to the author. With
self-published books (sometimes called ‘vanity publishing’) a reviewer first
thinks, “Why was this book not picked up by a publisher? What will be the
availability of this book? Will readers be able to buy it through
main-stream bookshops?” Rightly or wrongly then, self-published books start
off on the wrong foot. Having said that, perhaps it explains why it took a
little time before Seven Years in Asia made it to review.
But to the reviewer’s table it did
indeed make it, and I must say from the outset, that I am glad it made it.
It is a most enjoyable book; however, like many self-published books, there
is a dearth of information about the author. He only admits to being
pointed towards journalism when he was younger, but did not take it up.
Several Asian countries are involved in
his wanders, beginning with India. The wanderings cover many years, but the
stories are kept in geographic sequence, rather than a conventional
After a few pages of his Indian
experiences, it became obvious that author Baldwin did indeed have the
ability to spin a yarn or two, in a most readable way. In fact, as the
reader finishes one enjoyable story, you automatically begin the next.
Infectious writing. Or infectious reading?
He begins in India, saying, “India
remains a country full of the weird and the wonderful, all that discourtesy
I experienced is indicative of its contemporary reality which boasts little
of Kipling’s adventures…” Some of the discourtesy he experiences, he
actually brings on his own head, being of a feisty nature it seems. He
writes of being asked for money by a beggar. “I paused, put my own hand
out, and raised the middle finger in a loving Christian gesture.”
He describes the ambient noise in India
as, “… emitting a babble of sound reminiscent of the speaking in tongues
following the Biblical destruction of the Tower of Babel. This cauldron of
olfactory assault, clamor and color combined to epitomize the aromatic,
auditory and visual experiences of the mystical sub-continent of India.”
An interesting interlude was his visit
to our neighbor Laos during the Hmong New Year where he witnesses the
courting rituals carried out at that time - and only at that time. He
wonders, “I don’t know how a guy’s supposed to manage if he gets the hots
for somebody at other times of the year.”
He comes to Vietnam and finds that all
the local restaurants serve dog. In fact, only dog. He goes hungry! He
does the Hanoi to Saigon trip, and wonders … “for the first time, who the
bad guys really were.”
An interesting book. RRP B. 395
available at B2S Central Festival.
The Wisdom of Beer
Christopher G Moore’s latest novel, The Wisdom of Beer (ISBN
978-616-7503-11-0, Heaven Lake Press, 2012) is set in Pattaya, with many of
the characters reminiscent of many of the ‘characters’ that abound in our
Thinly disguised, but it does not need
much of a leap of faith to see through Moore’s descriptions. Take for
example, “To Sandler, the Pattaya Volunteer Police Force were an exhibit of
living contradictions: elderly farangs dressed in police uniforms, like a
science experiment in time travel that had gone terribly wrong.”
Author Moore shows that in the 20
something years he has lived in Thailand, he has seen through the glitzy
exterior of life in Pattaya and subscribes to the notion that everything is
possible, but everything costs money. “There was always a price for getting
involved in other people’s lives. The question was always how much it was
going to cost, and how soon the payment would be due, and if it all could be
paid in installments or whether it would have to be one huge lump- sum
The plot revolves around a
septuagenarian Thai lady and a macaw, the recipe for Chinese Hell Beer, an
American beer bar owner, the Russian mafia, the local Chinese godfather and
son and the American Marines on the Cobra Gold exercises. Keeping the plot
moving along is a Moscow hooker with ambition. And there is plenty
An unholy alliance of East and West
occurs with both the Thai/Chinese Mafia and the Russian contingent joining
forces to break into a warehouse to steal weapons. The would be felons
include a trio of katoeys and nary a fingernail gets chipped, though there
are copious tears.
The Wisdom of Beer came highly
recommended by accredited authors such as Colin Cotterill and John Burdett,
and after reading the book, I can see why. Christopher Moore is an
excellent story teller as well as a writer and keeps your interest going all
the way through. The plot has many twists and turns, and Moore manages to
keep more than three balls in the air at one time.
There is almost no-one in Pattaya who
escapes Moore’s notice in this book, but he covers his ass in the
acknowledgements at the very end of the book writing a full disclaimer
exonerating the Volunteer Police Force and, “the Pattaya Police, the Pattaya
hospital establishment, the US Navy and Marine personnel, organizers of
beauty pageants, hotel owners, bar owners, bar employees, Chinese ancestor
worshippers and all species of macaws.”
He also goes on to write that “None of
these incidents happened, none of these people exist, and only a trouble
maker with a hidden agenda would suggest otherwise.” Anyone who knows
Pattaya will finally put the book down with a large smile on their face, if
not a real guffaw.
At B. 495, it is another book bargain.
If you are a fan of Christopher G Moore’s you will love this book. If you
have not read any of his previous 23 novels (though that hard to imagine),
you will be a fan after reading this one.