My knowledge of Cambodia was severely limited before reading this book.I knew they were bombed during the Vietnam War and of course knew about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge and The Killing Fields but even that limited knowledge was woefully ignorant. The extent of the genocide was mind-boggling and the distrust and paranoia of the Khmer Rouge towards the people of Cambodia exceeded that of East German Stasi. I also didn’t know that Vietnam had invaded in 1978 adding to the instability, fear, death and destruction reaped upon the country and it’s people for decades..
“just as dehumanising as the violence inflicted by the Khmer Rouge was the way they had forced the entire country to lie, cheat, steal, betray and kill to survive. It had eaten away at the core of each person who had experienced it. No one had escaped unaffected”
This impressive crime novel is set against this backdrop in the mid-1990s when some kind of peace and reconciliation is being sought and people are trying to either erase the past or preserve it.
Max Quinlan is an ex-Cop who is also trying to deal with his own complicated past. Born in Vietnam he has been raised in Melbourne by his father, himself trying to deal with his time spent during the Vietnam War. Quinlan has always been an outsider. His Asian appearance made him an outsider in Melbourne and his Australian upbringing makes him an outsider in Asia where he worked with the Australian Federal Police.
After a major case goes horribly wrong Quinlan quits the police force and now helps to track down missing people. He has been hired to track down Charles Avery, an Australian businessman, last seen in Bangkok. What he finds instead is the body of Avery’s business partner and a trail that leads to Phnom Penh and a murky world whose history of death and destruction is only too recent. Quinlan teams up with an Australian journalist, and his Cambodian fixer, as he digs into Avery’s shady business dealings with ex-Khmer Rouge. Instead Quinlan finds more trouble than answers in a country full of ghost, secrets and graves.
This is an excellent debut crime novel that deserves a lot of attention. The plotting is perfect and Andrew Nette keeps you on tenterhooks until the final pages. I loved how much the book immersed you in Cambodia, both in terms of place and history while at the same time keeping the intrigue and mystery moving. Hopefully we’ll be reading much more from Andrew Nette in the future.