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.”

Hunters in the Dark

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 9.59.18 PMLawrence Osborne is being compared with the greats – Evelyn Waugh, Paul Bowles, Graham Greene. His most recent novel, Hunters in the Dark (from Kindle, for less than half the print price) , came out recently and is set in Cambodia. The basic meme is Westerns out of their depth in cultures they don’t begin to understand, with mythic overtones.

Plot summary from the Guardian:

A schoolteacher in the tiny Sussex village of Elmer, Robert [the central character] knows that his provincial English life is a cul-de-sac. The anomie that afflicts him is really despair at the pettiness and claustrophobia of England, at “a way of life that justified itself as being the pinnacle of freedom, but [which] had not come up with an alternative reason for existing once the freedom had been sucked out of it”. He leaves for Thailand, slowly settling into the decision not to return to that hated old life. The novel opens with Robert crossing over the border to Cambodia and gambling with the last of his savings to win $2,000. This stroke of luck sets into motion the machinery of a plot that comes to resemble a Newton’s cradle, one sphere colliding with another and transferring its energy and momentum to it, and so on, in a long, complex series.

If you want to read about it on the Sunday Times you’ll have to subscribe, but they do give a little author bio for free:

IT’S TAKEN Lawrence Osborne a long time to find his bearings as a novelist. A compulsive wanderer – born in Britain, he has lived in Paris, New York, Mexico, Morocco and Istanbul and is currently located in Bangkok; out-of-the-way travelling is a speciality – he has been equally wide-ranging as a writer. After his first novel, Ania Malina (1986), which criss-crossed ravaged Europe after the Second World War, he abandoned fiction for 26 years, publishing books on subjects as diverse as off-beat aspects of Paris, a journey into Papua New Guinea, autism, wine connoisseurship and perverse attitudes to sex.

Says the FT:

The bumbling Robert has little purchase in this world, where western culture is referenced only in terms of past glories. He thinks he has some insight into the country and its people; Osborne — who said in a Guardian interview last year that the most a writer confronted with an alien culture can do is to “make something out of his incomprehension”— knows that he doesn’t.

Even so, it is Osborne’s probing of the Cambodian psyche that gives Hunters in the Dark depth and substance. If this dark, teasing, elegantly written book has a flaw, it is that its author’s fascination with his characters’ belief in the “fantastical inevitability” of events results in implausibly tight plotting, a too neat tying-up of loose ends. But then life is often larger than literature.

And the New Statesman:

Grappling with manifold questions about identity and the tragic futility of material aspirations in a ruthless, brittle world, this novel draws you into a sun-struck realm where the survival of the fittest is more predicated on chance and where violence is a sudden, opportunistic enterprise. It had me thinking long and hard about how the traits that allegedly define you can be jettisoned easily when you are lost within yourself – and how, simultaneously, there is a bleak freedom in discarding the conundrum with which we all struggle: our tenuous identity.

For myself I’ll just say that Osborne is a stylist – a pleasure to read his prose.