Cambodia Noir by Nick Seeley (Scribner, March 15, 2016)-The noir in the title pretty much says it all. This thriller is about as dark as they come, but it’s nearly impossible to put down. Photojournalist Will Keller has been in Cambodia almost 10 years, training his camera on the crime that is so common in 2003, when the horror of the Khmer Rouge is still very fresh in the country’s collective mind. It seems like upheaval is a daily event, and there are troubles in the reigning regime, throwing the area into chaos. This is pretty much all in a day’s work for Will, though. Will lives on the fumes of the copious drugs he consumes and he seems to eschew water for alcohol. But he gets the job done. His boss, and friend, Gus, pretty much gives him free reign, because he does good work, and it’s inferred that he and Will have had a sideline of finding missing persons for a while now. When a woman named Kara approaches Will and asks him to find her sister, June, he soon realizes that this is the same girl that stayed in his room when he was gone for a bit. All her stuff is still there, including her diary, and he can’t say no. Her diaries are haunting, and as he navigates a country where darkness is just a step away, he begins to suspect that she’s not what she seems. The story is told, alternately, via Will and June’s diary, and it’s intense all the way through. Just who is June really, and who actually wants to track her down? It’s definitely much more complex than a missing sister. Luckily Will is pretty capable, but he takes his lumps, and there’s one scene where he’s taking photos for a side job that is absolutely terrifying. Will dives into the very heart of darkness, where life is cheap, and loyalty can be had for the right amount of money, and it makes for read that steadily ratchets up the tension, and is, at times, shocking.
In spite of Will’s recklessness with his own life, it’s hard not to root for him, and the world he lives in, constantly looking for the next story, running headlong into trouble without a second thought, at a nearly nonstop pace, is fascinating. There’s always the impression that Will is running from something, burying himself in work, and booze, and women, and he actually is, but we won’t know the why of it until the last half of the book. It’s a doozy, and it will chill you to the core, and hit you like a sledgehammer. It’s mentioned that people go to Cambodia to lose themselves, yet in spite of the darkness portrayed, there’s a wild beauty that can’t be ignored, in the land, and in the people, creating a complex dichotomy that at times reads like a fever dream. The ending is a shocker, and plumbs the depraved depths that can wrap its tendrils around a human heart, destroying everything good and pure. Fans of international crime should get on this one asap. It’s a ride you won’t soon forget.