The Cambodian Book of the Dead by Tom Vater

The Cambodian Book of the Dead by Tom Vater
Published: 2012
Publisher: Crime Wave Press
Genre: Hard-boiled Mystery, International Mystery
Pages: 300
Available: ebook and paperback

Sexual Content: 💗 minimal, nothing graphic
Violence Level: 😮😮😮😨😨 for graphic torture and multiple murders

Reviewers Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Plot in Brief: (no spoilers) Maier a former foreign war correspondent turned private detective is sent to Cambodia to find the son of a Hamburg coffee magnet. He returns to his old stomping grounds in Phnom Penh and reconnects with his former lover. Soon, he is sucked into the bizarre world of a country trying to redefine itself while still mired in its violent past. His search leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole where some very creepy people lie in wait. 

The Characters: The novel is filled with a cast of characters that leap from the pages. Maier, the main character is well drawn, believable, and earns the reader's sympathy straight off the mark. His cohorts range from a deeply flawed Khmer madman, women damaged by the very men who should have protected them, dissolute Europeans, and a colorful American, scarred by war and trapped in the past.  My favorite character by far was Cambodia itself. Moody, dark, strangely beautiful in all its death and decay; it's as if Vater personified the place with his words. I felt myself swatting at mosquitoes and longing for a cold beer. I was both madly attracted to and repelled by his description of the country.   It's clear that Mr. Vater has more than just a glancing knowledge of the place. I suspect he has Asia in his eyes. 

The History: I loved the historical aspect of this book. The story of Cambodia and its transformation from a post-colonial backwater to a broken land, strewn with land mines, a people damaged by war, death, and destruction at the hands of a madman run amok, is devastating. I saw the movie The Killing Fields, way back when and have not given the place much thought since. It's always a pleasant surprise to read a book that not only entertains but leaves the reader with a new appreciation for the novel's historical setting.

The Writing: Wow! Evocative, lyrical, grab you and suck you into the story, writing. I loved it. Highly descriptive, the narrative has a poetic feel to it. You can sense the humidity rising as you turn the page. Well edited and tightly paced, the story zips along, culminating in an explosive ending.

Overall Impression: Loved it. There, need I say more, of course I do! Smart, suspenseful, with a sense of urgency despite the languid tropical setting, what's not to like? I got the sense that the author might have crossed paths with some of his characters in real life. My only quibble is with the ending which did seem a tad over the top. 

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a well written, smart thriller/ suspense story with a heaping dose of history. 

Rating: I rate this book 4 1/2 stars  ⭐⭐⭐⭐✯ (I will round up to 5 stars for Amazon and Goodreads)

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend


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