Ghost Money by Andrew Nette (Crime Wave Press – May 30th, 2015)-It’s always a treat to read a book that touches on subjects or events that I’m mostly unfamiliar with. There’s a lot of opportunity to explore new places that, as a reader, I don’t tend to visit. Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money is one of those books – added bonus: it’s a whip-smart, mile a minute thriller to boot.
Max Quinlan, a Vietnamese Australian ex-cop, has been hired to track down one Charles Avery, a missing businessman, in the dark heart of war-torn Cambodia during the tail-end of the Khmer Rouge insurgency. He’s in danger from the first word; decades of horrors hanging in the air. Cambodia holds no safety for him, and the more he presses, Quinlan finds himself in danger at every turn—Avery slipping through his fingers time and time again. And in a country where violence is second nature, Quinlan’s chances of ever returning are immensely slim.
I’ll own my limited knowledge of Cambodian history. I’d read about the Khmer Rouge in passing and knew of Pol Pot, but the guided tour Nette brought me on was eye-opening and incredibly tense. Interweaving Quinlan’s quest with Cambodia’s infamous history serves Ghost Money well. It’s taut and holds a level of suspense seen in the golden days of hard-boiled detective tales. Quinlan is at home with the likes of Marlowe, Carter, or Spade. He’s a hard man with a rough past, but maintains a charm that keeps the reader engaged in his story and his safety. The rest of the cast is equally likeable (in the case of villains, unlikeable) and well characterized. Exchanges feel authentic and the occasional culture clash during conversations work to great effect. Cambodia feels properly lived in and Quinlan truly feels like an element that just doesn’t belong.
Nette manages to also provide the reader with a dense amount of history concerning the Khmer Rouge. This is a tricky place to play in. Too much info-dump can grind a story to a halt, but he manages to inject information in the story in small doses and in ways that make it all feel entirely relevant to the plot. Nette conveys that this knowledge is vital to surviving Cambodia, that without this context, Quinlan would be lost. It also provides some interesting perspective. The happenings in Cambodia are so much larger than Quinlan’s story and play a major role. The country is as much a supporting player as any other character.
Overall, Ghost Money is highly recommended for old school and new school noir fans alike, especially for anyone looking for a change of locale. There’s something refreshing about reading a story like this without it being set in an American or European city. Add in a genuinely interesting (and mixed race!) protagonist with some scary, scary villains and you’re in for a real treat.
Digital copy of Ghost Money provided by the author