by Richard Stevenson
Publisher: Monsoon Books
Reviewed by B.S.
Bangkok Freefall is the tenth novel in the Don Strachey gay private eye series, and, as far as I know, it is the first one that takes place in the ‘Land of Smiles’. And yes, I did mention the word ‘gay’. But for those of you who may not read this book because of that fact (I know I almost didn’t), you should know you’ll be missing out on a great read.
What does a gay gumshoe from Albany, New York who’s in way over his head in Thailand, after being hired to locate a wealthy American expatriate who’d gone missing, a well connected Thai private investigator with an unusual name, a mysterious rent-boy called ‘Mango’, whom they both want to question, a venal police general who’s willing to investigate any crime as long as the price is right, two high-level Thai fortune tellers who’d somehow been linked to the missing farang, and Thailand’s former minister of finance, all have in common with auspicious numbers, saving face, Buddhism, reincarnation, making merit, karma, and oh-yeah, thirty-eight million dollars and a coup d’etat? Well for starters, each one is an important piece of the puzzle, that when pieced together make-up, and then unravel, each of the plot twists found in Richard Stevenson’s clever thriller.
Although the author certainly doesn’t hide the fact that the sleuth is gay, this book is not about gay men. You can rest assured that first and foremost it is a very well written, and well paced crime/mystery thriller, whose main character just happens to be gay.
The story unfolds as a concerned ex-wife employs Strachey to find her ex-husband and his missing millions. The ex, apparently after liquidating all of his assets, relocated to Bangkok to immerse himself in Buddhism, Asian astrology and numerology as a way to make next-life merit points for certain present-life sins that he and his rich stateside relatives had accrued.
Unfortunately, along the way he became involved with an assorted cast of unsavory characters from low-life rent boys to top government officials, most with dubious reputations, as well as an urgent desire for his cash.
This, combined with the disintegration of a dodgy deal which caused some pretty powerful players to lose millions, led to street thugs watching his apartment, and his friends and business acquaintances to start falling to their deaths from their high-rise balconies, while large sums of his personal fortune are transferred out of his Thai bank account and into the accounts of some seemingly sordid individuals, all without any clear explanation.
On top of that he mysteriously vanishes under suspicious circumstances along with the remains of his thirty-eight million dollars.
So it’s off to Bangkok for Don Strachey and his close friend Timmy. Once there however, it becomes clear the New Yorker is out of his depth, and he smartly partners-up with a Thai national in the PI business named Panchalee Siripasaraporn, who’d adopted the unlikely moniker of Rufus Pugh. Together Don and Pugh conclude there’s a lot more to this case than meets the eye, and it becomes a race to track down the elusive millionaire before he too ‘accidentally’ tumbles from a very high balcony.
Beside being an immensely engaging thriller, Richard Stevenson has introduced us to an interesting range of eclectic characters and he has neatly handled a complex plot, conjuring up some witty, wry and, intelligent dialogue.