Title: The Cambodian Book of the Dead, a Maier Mystery
Author: Tom Vater
Format: Paperback or eBook
Publisher: Crime Wave Press Ltd.
Buy Now: Paperback Kindle
Reviewed for: Freebooksy
Book Description: Cambodia 2001 – a country re-emerges from a half century of war, genocide, famine and cultural collapse. German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. As soon as the private eye and former war reporter arrives in Cambodia, his search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier, captured and imprisoned, is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider, a tale of mass murder that reaches from the Cambodian Killing Fields back to Europe’s concentration camps – or die.
I received an eBook copy of this title from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for the review, and all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I adore a good mystery, always have. Add in sharp detail that feels like “feet on the ground” research and it becomes a near perfect setting for me. Being acquainted with several people who are either Cambodian or were in refugee camps as a result of either the Vietnam War or the Khmer Rouge, and having my own visions of the beauty and history of the people: I instantly was interested in the story and where it would go. So, I was predisposed to like the book on those grounds alone. What I did not expect was the intelligent and very liberal sprinkling and references to the history of the country that all serve to better define and help the reader to ‘understand’ the interactions.
Maier is a former war correspondent from Germany: his speciality was the Southeast Asian area. Nearing the end of the “defined” war in Cambodia, his fixer Hort was killed by a bomb, left to kill him. Maier returned to Germany, handed in his resignation and accepted a position with the leading Investigative Agency in the area. He returns to Cambodia, with his memories and knowledge to track down and ‘return’ a German ex-pat to his family per his mother’s request.
During his investigation, we encounter many of his connections: Carissa an Australian who left her country for the freewheeling world of the “all night” Cambodia, and has entrée into the ‘now and current’ happenings in the country.
What starts as a fairly straight line to the finish mystery / detective story is so peppered with twists and references to violence remembered and current, juxtaposed against the stark beauty amid devastation from 20+ years of war, and the actual beauty of the people seen through the jaded eyes of Maier: this story is haunting and palpable with tension.
The style is very much one of a war correspondent: while details are beautifully described and details are clearly presented, the prose is spare and less flowery than many would like. When reliving his memories of times past, we see what feels like a wish for it to be different – for him to reencounter scenes and places of the past again, with fresh eyes and the ability to appreciate the beauty without the knowledge of horrors contained in the history of the spaces and places. By the end of the book, you are treated to an understanding, at least as complete as Westerners are able to have on the feel of the place, and the history of its people. It is a beautiful testament, in an offhanded way, to the power of the human will to live, to survive and the equally powerful ability to forget because remembering is far too painful.
I really did enjoy this book, while parts were slower for me than others; the indescribable need to read with my back against a wall was nearly constant. The tension that Maier feels as a westerner in a land that tends to view all outsiders with scepticism, if not outright hostility, was transmitted through the words and plot. It was a great read for mystery and history fans alike.
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About the Author:
Tom Vater is a writer working in South and South East Asia. He writes both in English and German. His articles have been published around the world. He is the author of several books and has co-written a number of documentary screenplays for European television and cinema. TIME Magazine described his recent work as ‘exuberant writing’. In his spare time, he plays in Rock’nRoll bands and reads Noir fiction.