The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘The Marriage Tree,’ Bangkok fiction by Christopher G. Moore

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 15•14

MooreMarriage TreeHere at WoWasis, we make it a point of avoiding reviewing books in which vampires and ghosts play prominent roles. So we thought veteran novelist Christopher G. Moore sandbagged us when he introduced some phantasms in the early pages of his most recent novel, The Marriage Tree (2014, ISBN 978-616-7503-23-3). We needn’t have worried. They belong in the story. This, the latest in Moore’s Vincent Calvino detective series, revolves around two main themes, the fate of the Rohingya, disadvantaged Burmese Muslims who have fled to Thailand, and Calvino’s dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, a consequence of the action in Moore’s previous novel, Missing in Rangoon.

The author here introduces us to Calvino’s unwelcome spirits via the ingenious use of letters written by the detective to his therapist, who is charged with helping him to clear his recurring visions of the people he lost in his recent Burmese-Thai adventure. The brain plays some strange tricks. This reviewer saw recurring snippets of a 30 second movie for six months after a brain surgery once, a piece of cinema that would pop up at random in the left field of vision. So we get cranial aberrations, we do.

The Rohingya situation, in contrast, was pretty much news to us, in terms of the slavery business being run by “influential Thai businessmen,” to populate fishing boats and factories with undocumented (and unpaid) Burmese. Moore, who’s lived in Bangkok since the late 1980s, again provides the reader with data that doesn’t often appear in newspapers, salting this latest adventure tale with cerebral material involving, in addition to the Rohingya element, high tech spyware such as the GSM interceptor, and tracking technology involving microchips embedded under tattoos. They figure prominently in this story.

The tale begins with a dead beauty lying on the grounds of Bangkok’s Tobacco Monopoly, resulting in Calvino being banged around by the Thai police during a tense interrogation scene. His erstwhile Thai police confidant, Colonel Pratt, has been marginalized by his superiors, leaving the detective on his own to prove that he wasn’t the murderer and sort out, ultimately, who was. We won’t spill the beans about how the spyware become involved. It’s a juicy part of the story and we’re not going to spoil the fun for the reader. Moore is adroit at discussing the mechanics of how it’s used, and we’d guess that most readers will review the passages more than once, just to get it right.

In terms of the evolution of Moore’s style (this is his fourteenth Calvino book), we see more of the tale emerging through dialogue, rather than straight description, and Moore’s good at it. He once wrote radio plays, and it shows. At 429 pages, it’s not to be read in one sitting. It will keep the reader up at nights, though, as the action is fast-paced and full of enough twists to foment insomnia. We just gave up and spent a couple of nights reading until 3 am. For readers who loved Missing in Rangoon, this follow-on book provides something of a final resolution.

And although the reader may well be satisfied with Marriage Tree’s ending, there may be one small knot left purposely untied by the author that we somehow feel will be addressed by Calvino sometime in the future.

ThailandPromoBannerCan we be a bit nit-picky? There are still perhaps too many similes herein for our liking, like a surfeit of old clothes stuffed into a cheap suitcase. We still think that if Pratt continues fingering the buttons, rather than the keys, on his tenor sax, then he’d better switch to accordion. And jazzmen play tenors, altos, sopranos, or baris, not saxophones. Moore’s so good at bringing the reader into the spyware lexicon that we hope he’ll do it with jazz, too. The reader deserves it, and the author’s ongoing tribute to Dexter Gordon in this book really demands it. But these are minor details in which reviewers revel, and Moore is well-aware of the joy of keeping readers on their toes. In his Acknowledgment page, he states: “Whatever errors remain are the result of my own success at making them invisible until after publication in order to give the reader that extra pleasure of discovering a piece of loose debris.”

A fast-paced story with plenty of good twists involving cerebral puzzles and fascinating characters has become the hallmark of Moore’s fictional work. The added bonus is that the reader gets a worm’s eye view of the rotten core that defines the ever-present Thai underworld, played out daily in Bangkok’s newspapers, but elucidated to a devilish degree by the author. So read The Marriage Tree for a compelling, well-crafted story, and come away with an education in the process. It’s not just for Bangkokers, either. Anyone with an interest in inner-city politics and police practices — or malpractices — will find a home here.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

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