One of my resolutions for 2013 is to write more reviews. Four or five stars on Goodreads/Amazon/Barnes & Noble/etc. is great, but it means so much more to an author when a reader takes the time to spit out a sentence to a few paragraphs on what they thought of the book. With that said, on to the first review! My first read of 2013 is GHOST MONEY by Andrew Nette:
Max Quinlan is an Australian ex-cop turned PI whose latest case is to find missing businessman Charles Avery. The trail leads to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Along the way Max will team up with an Australian journalist and his Cambodian translator to track Avery through the underbelly of the city and beyond.
I really enjoyed the mystery and Quinlan's investigative work throughout the novel. Once the action took a couple turns, the pacing drew me in and kept me curious as to how everything would unravel. The son of a Vietnamese woman and Australian man, Quinlan seems uncomfortable in his own skin. Unable to find his place in Australia or Thailand, he turns to PI work to fill the void. Quinlan is a complexcharacter and Nette strings the reader along, sprinkling his quirks and flaws along the way so there is always something new and interesting. The novel's secondary characters are believable and their actions colored by the setting and history of conflict in and around Cambodia. Several of such characters play very minor roles but stood out to me due to the attention Nette gave them. There are several reviews that comment more specifically on the events in the book, but I prefer not to spoil so search them out on Goodreads if you'd like to know more. But, I will say that the end left me satisfied and was well worth the trip.
My favorite aspect of GHOST MONEY is the setting. In addition to conducting exhaustive research, Nette, a native Australian, spent six years living in Southeast Asia and it shows from the minute background details of a store front, to the history of the Khmer Rouge. The novel is JAM PACKED with historical information, but it never feels like a dump of facts. I spent some time in Southeast Asia in 2005, and while the conditions are much improved (especially in Cambodia) since the early 1990's when GHOST MONEY is set, the sights and sounds in the novel took me right back. From an American perspective, I think the history of conflict between Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand (and in most cases, China) is often overlooked, forgotten or unknown. I hope GHOST MONEY inspires readers to delve further into the fascinating and frightening history between these countries.