The one on the sleepless nights of Phnom Penh

Nick Seeley, Cambodia Noir (2016)

I’m deliberately misleading here, because this book is no romantic comedy of any kind, no, it’s black and bitter and strong. Nights in Phnom Penh are definitely sleepless, but while some may be looking for love, a lot more find drugs, booze, prostitution and any other possible vices.

The main character is Will Keller, a photojournalist who has been on too many tragedies and war zones. He vegetates in Cambodia on joints and occasional shots of adrenaline as he gets called on crime scenes or political riots. He’s the traditional noir hero: broken, disillusioned, flawed and haunted.

I would never hang out with someone like him in real life, but on paper, hey, I have absolutely no problem, he’s like Bernie Gunther’s little American cousin.

Even though he understands Cambodia inside out, from the underage sex tourism to the complex local politics mired in corruption and violence, Keller finds himself out of his depths when a young Japanese-American intern at his newspaper disappears and when her sister asks him for help. What has she discovered and more importantly, who is she really?

Cambodia noir is an excellent page-turner. Characters are dark and multi-layered, the pace is brisk and full of surprises. The writing is crisp and efficient, and suitably sarcastic as the genre requires. Moreover, Nick Seeley knows his stuff (he’s a journalist and this is his debut novel), and the book is as informative on Cambodia as it is entertaining. I went to Cambodia in the early 2000s and there were talks of a possible job at a local newspaper there, and I remember both the awe I felt at the wonderful palaces of Angkor and the dark side I was warned against very pointedly by my then-colleagues in Hong Kong. Needless to say, I turned the job offer down.

This book definitely won’t be everyone’s taste, but if you like the genre, it’s good stuff. As far as Asian thrillers go, it will probably get compared to John Burdett but I find them different. Upon reading this one, I doubt you’ll take a ticket for Cambodia immediately, but remember, it’s fiction! And Angkor is something worth seeing in one’s lifetime.

I got this book through Netgalley. It will be published in March 2016 but I’m sure you can pre-order it.


4 thoughts on “The one on the sleepless nights of Phnom Penh

  1. This sounds pretty intriguing. And if I’m going to walk on the wild side, I’m a bit of a coward so will want to do it through fiction. But that’s what is so great about books – you can experience it (almost) right from your favorite easy chair. Wish is was coming out sooner and hope I can convince my library it’s worth purchasing it. Good review.

  2. Pingback: 2015 in Books: the 5 most memorable | Smithereens

  3. Pingback: March 16 The one deep into Cambodia ghosts | Smithereens

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