Bond meets Buddha in Cambo spy thriller

Bond meets Buddha in Cambo spy thriller

111216_06d

Looking for a good holiday read? Go no further than The End of the Monsoon by John Lathrop, available at Monuments books for $12.50.

The book, set in Cambodia, was released by the UK publisher John Murray around the middle of the year, and Amazon’s book description reads: “Michael Smith, at the US embassy in Cambodia, has an urgent assignment: do what it takes to help a US oil company secure its contract with the Cambodian government before upcoming elections strengthen a Chinese competitor.

“His affair with Zainab, the British charge’s wife, complicates events. Unaware of Smith’s role, Zainab pushes hard for reform, convincing her candidate to tie oil concessions to clean government, and Chinese concessions to the release of a dissident monk. The ruling party works for the monk’s release, but insists that Zainab, a Buddhist herself, travels to the remote northern border for the handover.

Smith considers a British diplomat’s spouse to be a protected species in Cambodia.

While classed as a political thriller, the book is complex and subtle and at first appears to be an adulterous love story, about a gradual descent into the personal moral dissolution that so often accompanies adulterous affairs. It’s also a story about how the insidious nature of corruption corrupts almost all.

Indeed the book’s subtitle, How Far Can You Go  Before Crossing The Line? says it all.

About halfway through, the novel begins to change tack almost as though the author, cognizant of the fact that he is supposed to be writing a political thriller, inserts some classic ingredients of the genre: danger and derring do.

The first attempt to do this, a sort of James Bond-esque gung-ho-hero-rises-to-the-occasion-and-saves-the-heroine-from-disaster when a tethered balloon at Angkor Wat becomes untethered, is somewhat clumsy and clichéd.

But it’s a small flaw in an otherwise superb book.  Part of what makes the book superb is the refreshing description of a relatively recent modern day Cambodia, and the absolute absence of references to Pol Pot and tarantulas.

The book also gives a fascinating insight into the lives of embassy staff and diplomatic circles. NGOs don’t fare too well in this novel, and the author makes a point of satirising the over-capitalised “obscurantist jargon” employed by both NGOs and embassy officialdom on a regular basis.

The book gives this fictitious example:  “Welcome, all Attendees, to Westin Oil’s Second Annual Conference on Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Supporting IMF Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency, Promoting Aggregation and Disaggregation Disclosure, UNDP EITI Guide Document, Paragraph 4, and Bill 6066.”

All in all, this book is one of those great deckchairs reads, and the insights into a real Cambodia of today will bring amusement especially to seasoned expats.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia’s image problem

    In opening remarks at a recent event, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luy David said information can be a double-edged sword. He told a European Institute of Asian Studies (EIAS) briefing seminar that the media has unfairly presented

  • PM Hun Sen says dangers averted

    Delivering a campaign speech from his home via Facebook Live on Thursday, caretaker Prime Minister Hun Sen said his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had carried the country through danger in its latest mandate. He was specifically referring to the threat of a “colour revolution”

  • Bumpy road for local ride apps

    Ride-hailing services seem to have grown into a dominant player in the capital’s transportation sector. Relatively unknown and little used in the Kingdom at the beginning of this year, services like PassApp, Grab and ExNet are now commonplace on Phnom Penh streets. However, the

  • Hun Sen lays out party’s platform

    Caretaker Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday credited liberating Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge as among the reasons why people will vote for his ruling Cambodian People Party (CPP) in the July 29 national elections. Hun Sen, who has held the reins of power in Cambodia