The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis Book review: ‘Stage IV’: cancer and death in Thailand by Erich Sysak

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 02•13

SysakStageIVHere at WoWasis, we’re always looking at new twists on the Bangkok Fiction literary genre. The ‘bar girl meets western man’ theme has been covered in dozens of books, so Erich R. Sysak’s Stage IV (2011, ISBN 978-981-08-5435-5) really caught our eye. It’s not often a guy dying from cancer gets to be a book’s hero. And truly, Lawson Banks, Sysak’s protagonist, must set a record in fiction for most vomits, pusses (not ‘pussies’) bleeding sores, and cancer-related what-not, per 223 pages, the length of this book.

The action takes place primarily in the Thai seaside towns of Pattaya and Hua Hin, revolving around Banks, who has essentially come to Thailand because of its proximity to inexpensive drugs that will keep him alive, prohibitively expensive in the United States. His love interest is Benz, a Thai woman whose familial problem have come to involve a crooked Thai policeman, eventually ending up in her emptying Lawson’s bank account. Sysak does know his cancer, incidentally:  small details like PowerPorts embedded in the chest that prevent veins from being destroyed by noxious anti-cancer agents give him instant “cancer cred.”

The nastiest twist to the story involves a viatical settlement, a term used to describe a situation in which an insured who is terminally or chronically ill sells his or her existing life insurance policy to a third party for more than its cash surrender value, but less than its net death benefit. The original policy owner with a lump sum, while the third party becomes the new owner of the policy, pays the monthly premiums, and receives the full benefit of the policy when the insured dies.

ThailandPromoBannerIn this novel, Lawson has sold his policy, lived beyond his predicted two years, and as a result, the nefarious group that bought his policy determined it would be in its best financial interest to kill him. But he’d gone off the rails and disappeared, so they’d have to find him first.

Sysak delivers a whole range of bad guys, some interesting elements of Thai village culture, and a plot that moves well. It’s not a book without flaws, particularly in the manner in which the author handles flashbacks, which he moves in and out of without asterisk or subchapter breaks, and instead just continues the text with a new paragraph describing past action. This frustrating element of the book caused us to stop and re-read to ensure we doze off and miss something. A good editor would have caught and fixed it.

Nevertheless, Stage IV is a good read, and a pleasant break from much of the recent “bar girl and detective” fare that’s been distributed out of Southeast Asia. Buy Stage IV now at the WoWasis eStore.

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