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Book Review: by Lang Reid

A World of Trouble

The latest Jack Shepherd crime novel is entitled A World of Trouble (ISBN 978-981-4361-51-4, Marshall Cavendish, 2012), written by well-known author Jake Needham and is the third in the series after Laundry Man and Killing Plato.

I will admit that I have always enjoyed Jake Needham’s work, including his other series The Big Mango and The Ambassador’s Wife.  However, I have to state from the outset that Needham is one terrible liar.  Strong words perhaps, but I can back my claim with irrefutable evidence.  In the Author’s Note at the very front of the book, Needham proclaims “This is a novel.  It’s not journalism.  That’s why I got into the fiction business in the first place, folks.  I make this stuff up.”  Yes, Mr. Needham.  This new book is about a very rich and influential Thai ex-prime minister who is living in exile in Dubai, a new lady prime minister in Thailand and whole bunch of grass-roots Thai folk wearing red or yellow shirts, who have gone so far as to have battles on the streets of Bangkok.  If you just “make this stuff up”, it has an amazing similarity to events that have happened recently.  However, perhaps we should accept your characters, Mr. Needham, at face value and not delve too deeply into how you came up with them in the first place.

The prologue is intriguing and is close to the end of the plot, but is used to introduce the characters and the timeline that went before.  In essence, Jack Shepherd, a low-flying American lawyer has been hired by General Kitnarok to move money around for him, as the general is in Dubai.  The general is a hero in the eyes of the red shirt hordes, who all want him back and in the prime ministerial seat once more.  How this will (or could) happen is the thread running through the book.

Jake Needham is not afraid to point the odd finger or two at the Thai political system (it is a novel after all, and he made it all up), musing at unfinished road construction, “Shepherd had seen senseless pieces of construction like that scattered all over Thailand, the product of a public works system designed primarily to generate payoffs to politicians rather than to provide anything of value to the country.”

Shepherd soon finds himself being drawn into a scenario with an FBI operative, who remains enigmatic until the final showdown, and there is a cataclysmic final showdown.

Needham has a droll wit that pops up through the prose.  Shepherd was thinking he was about to be attacked by an assailant, “… the only thing Shepherd could do with his hands was operate a laptop.  Somehow he doubted he would be able to email this guy to death.”

The Asia Books website has an RRP of B. 495 for A World of Trouble, which is far too low for a meaty 400 page paper-back with quality writing such as Needham provides.  This is a very good read.  Get it, and hope that the plot unfolds differently from that penned by Mr. Needham.

Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand

It had been at least a decade since I read Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand, and it did not surprise me that the current edition on the Bookazine shelves was now the 4th. In an ever-changing country, such as Thailand, a book like this would have to change as well. Undoubtedly, Thailand has become more westernized in the 10 years since my first reading, not all to the good I will add, but those changes in the Thai perception of good and bad, right and wrong do mean new perspectives for an advisory book such as this.

Printed in Thailand (thank goodness) reference (ISBN 978-974-652-179-6, iGroup Press, Amarin Printing and Publishing, 2010), it has retained the same basic style and illustrations of earlier print runs. The book promises much for the foreign resident, the fleeting visitor or armchair traveler and cautions right from the start that the reader should not be surprised if the pretty salesgirl on the perfume counter is a man. (And seen in other not so professional places!)

The authors (Kenny Yee and Catherine Gordon) state at the outset that the reader should “read this book with a very open mind. It simply states what should be done in a given situation for a pleasant experience, every time.” This is followed by the “don’ts” of “feel offended by our frankness. Our suggestions are meant to help you better understand Thai society as a whole and not to belittle anyone or any particular social norm or culture.” (That in itself is a very typical Thai attitude.)

The various chapters include Background essentials, Character traits, Body language, The wai (complex enough for a stand-alone book on it), Religion (with the four Noble Truths expanded upon), Pleasure haunts in Bangkok, Shopping (one of the principal reasons the western woman comes to Thailand), Food and Eating out, Festivals, “Happenings” and even how to do a Visa run.

All the chapters are expanded upon to cover many more topics than just the chapter headings. For example, in the Pleasure haunts in Bangkok chapter this covers different levels of accommodation, hotel “safes’, checking bills, sensible advice to forget phone booths but get phone cards from convenience stores, laundry problems, Thai ladies in your room, kissing in public, tipping, when “yes” can mean “no”, Thai massage, river tours, temple tours, hawker food, even the boozy haunts of Nana Plaza, Patpong and Soi Cowboy all get their mention, and the thorny question of pirated goods. Each chapter is very comprehensive.
Actually I found this a fascinating publication, and one of immense value for the farang reader.

At B. 415 on the Bookazine stands, it is a very inexpensive way for the foreigner to understand a little more about the Thais and the Thai culture. It will make any holiday more pleasurable, and ensure that longer term residents not make fools of themselves, something which is very easy to do if you are not savvy about the customs. By the way, the paper stock used is of excellent quality, so your book should stand several readings and even abuse by itinerant travelers.

Round the Bend

The latest from British tele-personality Jeremy Clarkson is called Round the Bend (ISBN 978-0-718-15841-5, Penguin books 2011), and is a collection of Clarkson’s motoring columns in the Sunday Times.

I have reported previously, you do not read his Sunday Times column (or watch his television program, Top Gear) to be educated about cars. You become a fan of Clarkson’s for his pithy sense of wit.

Before you read any of the small chapters, you will be smiling at just reading the headings, such as “David Dimbleby made me wet myself,” (Mercedes-Benz CLK Black Series), “Lovely to drive, awful to live with” (Porsche Cayenne GTS), “A car even its mother couldn’t love (Porsche Panamera), “You’ll really stand out - for paying too much” (Mini Cooper S Convertible). You get the idea. In fact, one wonders why the manufacturers give Clarkson a car to play with. They must believe that any mention is better than being ignored.

But then open any chapter and read such metaphors as “The plastics would have looked shoddy on an Ethiopian’s wheelie bin,” (Lotus Evora 2+2), or “In time you do get used to them (the brakes) in the same way that you get used to having no arms. And when you do, the rest of the car is a big slice of bonkers joy,” (Mercedes SLR McLaren) or again, “The drunks are trying to find someone who still knows what a steering wheel does, half a dozen chatty souls are inviting you back to their places for more drinks and you have a devil on your shoulder telling you that, yes, it would be a brilliant idea to go with them,” (Lexus RX 450h SE-L).
In no way do you have to be a petrol head (or these days, a diesel head) and you will not read anything about CO2 emissions, as the only emissions that Clarkson would write about are those experienced by pubescent boys.

The Greens and climate change do not escape. “It (the Green Party) may be woolly on the issue of climate change - it keeps claiming that the world is warming up when every single figure shows it’s actually cooling down - but on road safety the Green Party seems to be bang on the money. It says casualty figures aren’t dropping because the roads are full of gormless morons.”

But give Clarkson just a little chink in the bodywork of a new car and you will be met with such descriptions as, “Ugly to behold and hateful to drive, it is not cheap, elegant, comfortable, practical, prestigious, clever, economical, luxurious, well designed …” You get the message!

At B. 685 in Bookazine, it is a hefty price, but it is a hefty book at 400 large pages, though the font size is also large (which certainly makes it easier on the eyes). Coming weekly in the Sunday Times would almost be enough for me to take out a subscription, but in book form, his (self) opinions can become a little too much, reading chapter after chapter. Intersperse a few days between each and this book will keep you chuckling for weeks.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

A World of Trouble

Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand

Round the Bend