Admittedly, it’s a challenge coming up with new twists when writing Bangkok Fiction. Bar girls, bad girls, corruption, and “influential” bad guys are all staples. It’s a brave writer that newly dips is foot in this muddy stream, and James A. Newman is one of the latest, in his detective novel Bangkok Express (2012, ISBN 978-1-4092-7754-5). The author has lived in Thailand since 2001, and among other things, has been a litigation insurance broker, which gives him some necessary insight into the crime upon which the book centers.
Murders are taking place on the island of Ko Samui, disguised as accidents so the perpetrators can collect insurance premiums. Into the fray comes London-based Joe Dylan, an investigator who, unlike most other protagonists in the Bangkok Fiction genre, doesn’t drink or make it a habit of bedding bar girls. There are some interesting characters in Bangkok Express, as well as several plots twists that move the book along nicely. The insurance scam is nicely explained, a theme that is reminiscent of Byron Bales’ novel The Family Business, written in 2003.
Where the book came up short for us was in the loose ends that never quite got tied down by the end of this 225 page story. Gantira, who plays a major role in the book, just sort of disappears at the end, as does James Hale, who seems to vacillate between being a saint and a sinner. And there doesn’t appear to be anything in the character of the policeman that would prompt his shooting of his teenaged daughter, which we here at WoWasis saw as a flaw in character development.
We’re left with the feeling that the book was too hastily finished (publisher’s deadline) and the ending was rushed. According to the book’s page on Amazon, this is the first of a series on detective Joe Dylan. Possibly those loose ends will be followed in a subsequent novel, it this one leaves the reader lacking a sense of fulfillment. Newman’s not yet thirty years of age, and presumably has a lot more writing left in him. A successful series leaves the reader wanting more, but also offers a sense of completion with each book. That sense is lacking here, and it’s hoped that Newman’s follow-on efforts in the series won’t be as rushed, be a little stronger in character development, and offer some degree of finality that will satisfy the reader to a greater extent than Bangkok Express does.