Scribner, $26.00, 339 pages, ISBN 978-1-5011-0608-8
Nestled between south Thailand and south Vietnam is the small Asian nation of Cambodia. Fronted on the Gulf of Thailand and bisected by the Mekong River, the capitol city is Phnom Penh. It’s a transit point for the opium-producing region known as the Golden Triangle. As such, it’s a lawless place where corruption is rampant, drugs are plentiful and the only thing that’s cheaper . . . is life itself. The sex trade is open, vigorous and widespread; the army, the police and the politicians are all corrupt, constantly battling for more control and an ever-larger share of the illicit drug trade. It’s a backwater, a savage place where anything goes . . . a great place to get lost . . . a place to waste away in utter dissipation. Which is exactly what a world-class photographer named Will Keller is doing in an electrifying first novel entitled Cambodia Noir by international journalist Nick Seeley, who got his start in Phnom Penh before moving on to the Middle East, where he currently writes for a number of news organizations.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia is where a critically-acclaimed, and world-class, but emotionally devastated, photo-journalist named Will Keller has gone to get wasted, stay wasted and waste away . . . trying to forget the day a single photograph won him a Pulitzer Prize nomination at the same time it broke his heart. Now he’s drifting along in a self-medicated fog of alcohol and cheap, easy-to-find narcotic drugs, hoping to forget that one awful moment in Afghanistan. He’s a risk-taker, willing to face any danger and slide by in a target-rich environment of crime, violence and corruption; always able to frame and shoot memorable—and sellable—photos that pay him enough to buy more drugs, drink more booze, and get more I don’t give a damn. As the novel begins, the Commanding General of the Army is arrested and jailed for drug-smuggling by the Chief of Police during the Presidential re-election campaign; it signals that a battle for control of the drug empire, in addition to the entire nation, has begun. It’s a conflict which spares no one, including a young female reporter who disappears while researching a story about drug smuggling. Keller’s search for her becomes a romp through the dark underbelly of a nation caught in the jaws of chaos, and peopled by an unforgettable cast of miscreants, misfits and bizzaros. New twists and turns appear on every page, the murders and mayhem and surprises never stop. Hard-boiled crime fans are going to love Nick Seeley and howl in anticipation of his next awesome, dark, brooding, masterful and compelling work of fiction. He’s gonna to be a monster. An absolute, book-selling monster!