Weeks, Lee - 'Death Trip'
Johnny Mann is a half Chinese, half Caucasian, detective based in Hong Kong. His father was murdered in front of him when he was 18. At the start of the book, he meets Magda in Amsterdam, who tells him that her son Jake, is his half brother, and that he has just been kidnapped while working in a refugee camp for Burmese people in Northern Thailand, along with four of his friends. The kidnappers have asked for a large ransom, which Magda can't pay. She asks for Johnny's help in rescuing his half brother.
There is clearly something suspicious about the agency that sent the volunteers out to Thailand, and in particular about the woman who runs it, Katrien. Magda's friend Alfie, breaks into Katrien's apartment, and installs a hidden camera to try to find out what she is really up to. Johnny returns to Hong Kong, and organises two of his colleagues to carry out background investigations on his behalf, withdraws 2 million dollars to pay the ransom, and heads off for Northern Thailand to pick up the trail of the kidnappers. Is there a link between the kidnapping and his father's death 19 years ago? Is this some kind of personal vendetta against Johnny and his half brother? Is there a link to drug trafficking?
Much of the plot is set in Thailand and the neighbouring Burma. Several chapters follow the fate of the five teenagers as they are moved around from camp to camp by the kidnappers, and focus in detail on the brutality of the leader known as 'Saw'. There are several violent scenes in which local peasants are raped or killed, or both. Many of the local villages are mined, and often burned by the Burmese militia, hence the large influx of refugees to Northern Thailand. One of the local ethnic groups, known as the Karen, try to put up some sort of resistance, but Saw seems to be outside of this resistance group, and appears to have some sort of personal reason for kidnapping the five hostages. Johnny's two colleagues help to piece together some of the threads behind the kidnapping, part of which involves an interesting side story set in Phuket that deals with corruption and abuse of local people there trying to rebuild their lives after the Tsunami.
Johnny makes it into Burma, with the help of various people along the way, but doesn't manage to find the hostages, although he's not far behind. No-one seems to cotton on to the fact that he is carrying 2 million dollars in his rucksack. He even manages to miraculously recover from a bout of cerebral malaria, without any drugs whatsoever. Eventually, there is a show-down back in Thailand in Mae Sot, where there are quite a few unexpected twists and turns before all the plot threads are finally tied up.
Overall, DEATH TRIP is a reasonably tightly plotted book. However, there are just a few twists and turns too many as almost no-one turns out to be the person they initially appear to be. And one or two of the plot twists at the end, are just a bit too contrived. There is a lot of violence, including some pretty horrific descriptions of rape scenes, that didn't really advance the plot in any way other than demonstrating that Saw was a particularly nasty psychopath. If the intention was to demonstrate that Northern Thailand, and Burma are particularly dangerous places to visit, then the book has certainly succeeded. Otherwise, I have to say I'll be making sure the next book I read has a low body count, minimum violence, and a bit more thoughtfulness about people's motives.
Michelle Peckham, England