Kevin Cummings, Tim Hallinan, Lawrence Osborne

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Click for the link to Hot Countries on Amazon.

Bangkok 101 magazine has an interview by Kevin Cummings with Tim Hallinan. in which they discuss Tim’s latest Bangkok-based thriller, “Hot Countries”, and much else. And in the current Phnom Penh Weekly Kevin has a review of Lawrence Osborne’s Hunters in the Dark (noir psycho-thriller with a Cambodian setting) . As the Weekly isn’t available on-line I’ll paste it here, with his permission. (Click on the book cover to link to the Amazon site for Hunters).


Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 3.58.14 PMHunters in the Dark

by http://Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 3.58.14 PMLawrence Osborne

reviewed by Kevin S. Cummings

“What is a bad man?”

This is the calm retort the Cambodian policeman and central investigator, Davuth, provides his daughter in Lawrence Osborne’s

moody and spirit laden novel, Hunters in the Dark, (Hogarth 2015) before following a set
of clues that will see one American under- achiever and one English school-teacher cross paths in a tale of double identities and floating indemnity. Investigators in Cambodia pursue for their own personal gain first and foremost without the benefit of much schooling. Davuth survived the history of Cambodia precisely because he comes from peasant stock, yet he wields considerable power over the educated “barangs” that frequent his country for “business or pleasure”.

When I first learned that Osborne’s latest novel would feature an English school-teacher set
in Cambodia I thought, how unimaginative is that? I also thought this will be a far cry from his embezzling, on the lamb, English attorney who reinvents himself as the high-stakes playing baccarat gambler in Macao, Lord Byron in The Ballad of a Small Player, a novel I enjoyed very much, written by Osborne and published in 2014 (Hogarth).

But just as the American businessman, Simon living by the river in Battambang had come around to the idea of ghosts since living in Cambodia, I’ve come around to the idea

that Lawrence Osborne can write about any character whom he wishes to, because he does it with skill and a nuanced imagination. Robert Grieve is the central character – 28 years
old, a career English literature teacher from England. His life, like his present day country,
is rather bland and ordinary compared to the East. When he has a bit of drowsy luck at the Diamond Club, after a border crossing from Thailand, his fortunes change forever. I see similarities between the Lord Byron and Robert Grieve characters in Osborne’s last two novels: they both assume new identities; interpersonal skills are not their strong suit; neither has any love lost for their former country; they both seem to get thrills they never came close to achieving before; they both wear tailored cloths and enjoy the details of a fine meal. Grieve is not your cheap haircut, cargo pant wearing English teacher in flip flops. On the contrary, Osborne gets his digs in at this expat “sub- culture” on more than one occasion.

Osborne’s characters and settings are equally superb, be they major or minor. The Scottish innkeeper with a penchant for munitions themed interior design I particularly liked, along with the yellow taped grounds and deer that occasionally get turned to a bloody

mist. The Dutch artist painting while naked
at 3:00 am with two young female models seemed vaguely familiar and believable. Other principal characters are Grieve’s driver, Ouksa, the Khmer doctor Sar, and his beautiful young daughter and love interest for Robert – the Paris educated Sophal. She is contrasted nicely with Simon’s Khmer girlfriend, Sothea who brings a semblance of balance and karmic energy to the story. Osborne gives the reader many details of the characters later rather than sooner, which enriches the story at an enjoyable pace.

But it is Cambodia and Osborne’s art of observation that ultimately seals the deal. Don’t skip a sentence of this atmospheric novel by Lawrence Osborne. You will be cheating yourself. The ending is particularly good although not flawless due to a clumsy transfer of a known vehicle. Osborne shows us the best and worst of the human experience. As the narrator observes while Robert eats at an outdoor terrace on Street 136 in Phnom Penh, “What an easy life it was. Just moments randomly pieced together.”

In other words, the exact opposite of what Lawrence Osborne has accomplished in writing “Hunters in the Dark.”

Thai Footprint

FootprintThai Footprint is the blog of Bangkok-based Kevin Cummings (link here). He describes it as being about “People, Things, Literature, Music and Henry Miller too.” Kevin cites a quote from Henry as the inspiration for the blog: “Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Quite right – these days I find myself forgetting things all the time. I remember Henry, though – he was one of the giants of the two decades or so following World War II, an apostle of freedom and self-liberation. He used to hang out a lot with Larry Durrell, the brother of Gerald – Gerald (as in the hilarious My Family and Other Animals) became famous before his older brother, then the Alexandria Quartet started appearing, all Gothic sex and purple prose, leaving unwary readers perplexed. “It’s a book by that nice Mr Durrell,” one old lady explained at the local library. “I expect it’s about animals.” Kevin says this about himself:

I have split the last fourteen years between Thailand and a small beach community in Northern California. I like to read. I like to creatively consume. Here I display a great deal about the artists, poets, novelists, musicians, photographers and the occasional muse who create in Thailand and SEA. Gop, the very cool and relaxed frog in the coconut shell was drawn by the very talented, cool and relaxed author / cartoonist, Colin Cotterill, to whom I am very grateful. I’m not a writer but my articles have been published in a few places. In the long run, John Maynard Keynes is going to be right.

The sections in the blog are:

The Henry Miller section is a collection of quotes from the great man. He was great, too – a little overlooked today, unfortunately. My advice is to start with Gerald Durrell’s three books about his boyhood on Corfu in the 30s, then read Lawrence Durrell’s Spirit of Place. Then read Henry. There are Interviews with, among others, Chris Minko of Khmer Krom, and artist/photographer Chris Coles. And there are book reviews – lots and lots of them, of which I especially recommend his review of Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series.

Kevin’s blog is a must-have for anyone seriously interested in Southeast Asia.