David Young has written six bargirl novels. The first was The Scribe, about a down-on-his-luck expat who pens love letters for scheming bargirls in Bangkok. His latest is "No Problem Girl". (Hostage Press International, Ayutthaya, 2008, 308pp) set mostly in Pattaya.
Just what we need, another bargirl novel, right?
But David Young is different from the legion of other expatriate authors. He can write. His characters are sympathetic, the plots are fresh and fast-paced, and the dialogue often hilarious. He is in fine form in "No Problem Girl".
The girl in question is Aree from a typical poor farming family in Korat. She's a high school graduate who speaks fair English and has just lost the job she's held for six years in a factory near her home. So she comes to Pattaya and lands a job as a barmaid. She is, emphatically, not a hooker. In fact, Mr Dwight, the American owner, does not want hookers in his bar. He interviews one job candidate by asking her name, age, marital status, children, and then: "Sprechen sie deutsch?"
The plot has a great many quirky twists. The novel opens this way:
"The girls were naked. Naked and purple.
"All right, perhaps not entirely naked, but they were, unarguably purple. Their hair, their arms, their breasts, and the short Romanesque skirts that each of them wore. Purple. At first Peter Slodell believed he was watching some sort of erotic tribute to Prince."
But we're not in Pattaya but Chicago where Peter Slodell is watching an arty nightclub review. Slodell is a ne'er-do-well, heir to a mayonnaise fortune. He refuses to work and prowls the clubs at night to pick up girls. The hitch comes when his father dies and specifies in his will that Slodell must be married before he can collect the family fortune. Slodell decides on a sham marriage.
Slodell goes to his friend Victor, a graduate student and computer expert, who recommends an international matchmaking service. Victor has a friend who explored both Thailand and Russia before settling on a temporary wife. Victor warns Slodell:
"He toured Southeast Asia before heading to Moscow. He said the Thai were the warmest, friendliest, and most beautiful people on Earth. He also said they were the most distant and shallow bunch he'd ever encountered."
"Victor. I'm distant and shallow."
It takes half the book before Slodell arrives in Bangkok.
Meanwhile, Aree needs the money. She has received a letter from her sister summoning her home to become the minor wife of the local godfather who holds her father's gambling debts. Siam Dreams Matchmaking Agency in Pattaya is a logical option.
Slodell is met at the airport by agency rep Mr Nick, a Brit who has fallen hopelessly in love with Aree.
"Peter regarded his escort in nothing sort of astonishment. He was a thin man whose entire being seemed in bad need of a shave. He had light colored hair made dark by all the bottom-shelf supermarket gel that kept it in place. The clothes he wore made Peter think of a twelve-year-old being dragged to church. Blue pants, a plaid, short-sleeved shirt, and a necktie that should have been taken out behind the barn and shot."
Mr Nick will act the Iago to deter the budding romance between Slodell and Aree.
Slodell submits Aree to a quiz about famous historical figures and finds she does not know who Hitler is. He reports this back to Victor who responds: "There are still plenty of Russians. I'll bet most of them have heard of Hitler."
Slodell does make it up to Aree's family village in Korat. He winds up with her crazed teenage brother and his motorcycle gang.
"They became part of the gang and rose, free wheeling, born to be wild, yippie kay-yay, through the darkening roads and endless rice fields. Peter could see that they really did have command of the streets . . . This wasn't a gang; this was an army. They could probably restore democracy in Burma once their acne cleared."
Will Slodell and Aree rescue each other? I recommend that you find out for yourself.