After retiring from a life as a war correspondent, Maier is now working as a private investigator out of Hamburg. When he boss sends him on an assignment to retrieve a wayward coffee tycoon’s son, he must face his past and return to Cambodia. A country filled with memories of lost friends and atrocities.
The Cambodian Book of the Dead looks at the state of modern day Cambodia, one that the tourist board would like to hide. The majority of tourists take their money to Angkor Wat and the rest of the country lives in a country struggling to get back on its feet after the damage inflicted by the Khmer Rouge. Foreigners come and take advantage of the women and children and buy up land at prices the locals could never compete with. Officials are corrupt and justice rare. The jungles are literal minefields. It’s all a bit seedy and makes you want to have a bath.
Whilst I found the background on Cambodia interesting, it was fairly slow starting. It’s obvious that the fishing village of Kep is riddled with dodgy people, we have to wait nearly 100 pages for the first body to turn up. The second half is much faster paced; dark and slightly surreal. I very nearly put it down but was rewarded for continuing. Despite that, I never really connected with any of the characters; they’re a despicable lot and I even struggle to find redeeming features in the good guys.
There are some bizarre descriptions where it come to people; eyes like magic flashbulbs, vibrating breasts and skin like the ocean. I think I can safely say it’s a man book as each female character gets their breasts described too (although they don’t all vibrate). I’m not entirely convinced about Maier’s drink of choice; vodka and orange seems to be the realm of teenage girls if you ask me. He orders this at regular periods, making it a little over obvious that it’s his signature drink.
It’s hard to tell if it’s a book just mirroring Cambodia’s misogynistic nature. Early on, it is pointed out that women are treated like commodities there but it is also quite scathing on their ability to do any better. The second half of the book has a few elements which puts the power back into the hands of the women, however warped that chance might be. The bulk of the characters are foreign; so is it just that outsiders and crazed ex Khmer Rouge generals treat Cambodia’s women so badly? It’s not like Maier says or does anything to make you think he objects; he just ogles their breasts. Perhaps that is just part of being undercover.
The Cambodian Book of the Dead is published by Exhibit A, the new crime imprint from Angry Robot, and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Also reviewed @ Crime Fiction Lover
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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