Matt Carrell proves, hilariously, that the one playing nightly in every bar in Thailand isn’t necessarily the best
“Apple’s different. She’s not like the other girls.” Spoken about a Bangkok bar girl, with an assurance untainted by decades of shared wisdom to the contrary, the woefully familiar line becomes a springboard into rocky romance, generous mirth and dodgy doings in Matt Carrell’s latest lark, “I Am an Author”.
The Englishman is indeed the author of thrillers and murder mysteries (“Thai Kiss”, “Vortex” and more), but he has perhaps never been as forthrightly funny as in this unceasingly entertaining yarn.
In a cascade of criminality, scams set one within the next like Matryoshka dolls, and surprises that continue all the way to the final page and, in fact, into the author’s note at the end, “I Am an Author” is a tale of relentless gullibility that’s by turns hilarious and excruciating to witness.
It’s about seeking salvation from mundane existence, a sparrow dreaming it’s an eagle. It’s about struggling writers in search of readers and finding instead unhelpful agents and unscrupulous publishers. (Amazon the uber-publisher is portrayed as the high altar and hellish pit it is, though here it’s called Yangtze.)
And Carrell is also extrapolating to some extent on his own experience trying to turn the written word into celluloid. Enter Harvey Weinstein’s less admirable cousin.
Carrell is self-effacing to begin with (and far too modest) as he introduces Michael Kenyon, a bit of a Walter Mitty, a bumbling Everyman who daydreams of wealth and fame when he’s not fantasising about exacting revenge on his bugger of a boss at
the Department of Overseas Development.
Fed up with the civil service, Mike decides he can break free of the dull life by matching Stephen Leather’s feat of compressing anecdotes about Thai nocturnal fun into a best-selling novel.
Producing a rival to “Private Dancer”, though, necessitates more than just studying the banter in expat online chat rooms like Pattaya-Dream. He’s off to Thailand to takes notes first-hand, and is joined in his overseas research by fellow bean-counter Tim.
Mike successfully remains aloof from the ladies, but he’s appalled to see Tim discover his chrome-pole dream girl and begin falling for every age-old trick documented in “Private Dancer” and countless other heart-shredding accounts.
(Interestingly, Stephen Leather isn’t the only real-life writer to get a mention. Talking about his inspirations, Mike says, “For footballers it’s Messi or Ronaldo – for me it was writers of Asian fiction like Hallinan or Burdett.”)
Tim returns home to London an utterly changed man, determined to earn more cash so he can head straight back to Thailand and a temple wedding.
Publishers ignore Mike’s book, “Thailand… the Dark Side” by Tony McDonald (“cool pseudonym”). Briefly, the devastated author-never-meant-to-be considers “Plan B”.
“If I had no luck with my submissions [to publishing houses], I’d sleep with a Premiership footballer. From there the road to reality TV is assured and, after that, a book deal is a dead cert.”
But a Facebook friend agrees to put “Dark Side” out via Porcupine Publishing. Mike has to cough up “a few hundred quid for the editing” and his manuscript comes back packed with suggested changes. “There was no way I was prepared for this carnage,” he groans.
It finally shows up on Yangtze, sells a few copies, and promptly sinks from sight.
Checking to see if anyone’s mentioning it at Pattaya-Dream, Mike realises how many other books there are just like his. “I thought I’d taken the path less travelled. It was a goddamned motorway.” That’s when Tim suggests getting “Dark Side” made into a movie, and he even comes up with a ready film producer, Alex Cartwright. No sooner does Mike meet the enthusiastic Alex than he’s composing his acceptance speech for the Bafta awards.
The balloon soon pops, of course, and many more pops will be heard as the story progresses. Mike’s pockets are emptied again and again, to no avail.
Eventually he finds a kindred
spirit, a gorgeous young woman. She’s a somewhat more successful amateur author but she’s apparently trapped in the same film-development hell. Maybe she can help. Maybe not.
Somehow Carrell manages to keep the reader grinning throughout his characters’ ever-worsening encounters with rotten luck. Only near the very end of the book does the plot get truly dire, and the final eye-popping surprise draws not a grin but a genuine gasp.
“Being a keen reader of detective fiction” (the speaker is Mike, but let’s attribute it to Matt), Carrell the genuinely accomplished author has constructed a clever little lotus bud of a mystery.
It’s also remarkable how he shares out narration duties among all the characters, including the bad guys (admittedly in the majority here). Their revelations as the knot is gradually untied often jostle against one another, like ice floes competing to get through the river rapids first. It’s a tour de force of weaving and unravelling, with the end of the thread always seeming just out of view.
A charming story (and true, as Hemingway would insist), “I Am an Author” is above all funny. “Mike,” goes one line, “had the air of a guy who’d been told to get on with his breakfast because the firing squad was on a tight schedule.”
Another favourite: “I’d developed an infallible capacity to remember in high definition each time I made a dick of myself.”
I Am an Author
By Matt Carrell
Published by Linden Tree and Matt Carrell Books, 2018
Available at Amazon.com, US$12