A novel by Nick Seeley
Book review by Jules Brenner
Scribner, released 3/15/16, 352 pp., $26.00
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Your typical noir thriller would have a relentless detective plodding dark,
dangerous streets, questioning a shadowy cast of characters, some evil, some
not, for the clues that move the tale toward a perilous climax. For writer
Nick Seeley's first novel, his setting of post Khmer Cambodia (circa 2003)
adds a choking dimension of alien mystery to an American expat war
photographer's dissolution and a try at resurrecting a life heading
This is Will Keller, still tough and talented, whose drug and alcohol
consumption supports many a Cambodian bar -- but doesn't slow his defensive
speed and combat skills when confronted by an oversized attacker. He works
freelance for any publication to which he can sell his work, but primarily
for the Cambodia Daily which isn't above publishing salacious dirt
along with reportage of a sensational drug bust in Phnom Penh, a political
murder, and the general violence and corruption in this hotbed of human
That's when Kara Saito shows up, offering to pay Keller handsomely to use his
investigative skills to find her missing sister June who has disappeard. Will
cares. June had worked as an intern on the Daily and he had put her up in his
flat as a gesture of kindness. But, now the intern's gone somewhere and lost
contact. Or, worse.
To help Will, Kara leaves June's diary with Will, hoping he can find a clue
in it as to her whereabouts.
Seeley alternates Will's plodding progress through the country's underworld
with pages from the diary, which reveals a woman's odd journey of development
through the raw atmosphere of a deteriorating society. Meanwhile, Will
gathers what he can from an assortment of friends and enemies and a culture
in which the value of life comes down to money and power.
It's actually a laborious read about an addict who's days end with a very
long night life of consumption and dissipation . The progress of the
investigation is slowed by Seeley's elongated rendering of his hero's
debauchery and self-hatred in an atmosphere of sin and corruption.
But the addict remains appealing and sympathetic in his devotion to saving a
life at great personal risk. Will's ability to handle himself in a fight even
when in a haze of drugs and alcohol gave me pause, though I accepted it as
the author ignoring the logic and saving his worthy hero.
On the plus side, the sense of originality and accuracy in the setting is
convincing and makes the story worth the trek for those mystery fans who
lean toward complexity and descriptive power. What kept me in it was the
protagonis's appeal and the promise of a resolution, if not a redemption.
If you don't yet own Canbodia Noir and would
like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.