The latest hero from T Hunt Locke’s erotic-thriller universe has to nab A serial killer in Bangkok without anyone noticing
Readers of American crime-thriller specialist Thom Locke, who lives in the Thai North, must wonder if he’ll eventually settle on one sleuth-protagonist, because he’s got several on the go. Each hero has starred in a title or several and seems poised to reappear at any time.
The phrase “on the go” might equally refer to both the bracing action of the books and the ever-present lure of the go-go bar, which offers, it has to be said, a completely innocent entertainment pastime – until bad guys show up.
Locke’s most recent release, the already two-year-old “Repent: A Bangkok Murder Mystery”, proves worthy of a long-postponed visit. Colin “Big Mac” McDonald is the detective of the neon-glare moment. He punches past previous gumshoes Sam Collins (“The Ming Inheritance”, “Jim Thompson is Alive!”), Declan Power (“Chiang Mai Chronicle”) and Dan Burdett (“Vinland”) to stake out the Thai capital as his own personal turf.
Rival contenders to the title deed must study this case carefully first, because Big Mac knows his Bangkok. And he’s here with a multifaceted story that covers a lot of ground at a very fast pace. Among other curiosities, we meet John the Baptist, con men, Russian gamblers, a “pear of anguish” and a Burmese python that’s somehow swallowed an American football.
Part of the appealing fun of expatriate novels set in Thailand is the namedropping of familiar places, and Locke goes one step beyond that by dropping a lot of names of people that will be familiar to devotees of the Asia-based crime/mystery genre.
Thus we have the real-life writers Jim Algie, James Newman and Kevin C Cummings stumbled upon at the real-life Sukhumvit Road watering hole Check Inn 99, catered to by proprietor Chris Catto-Smith and the late, much-missed Mama Noi. Keith Nolan is at the keyboards. Poet noir John Gartland scuds past on his way into exile in Phnom Penh. (Elsewhere, a Chris Coles painting decorates a wall.)
Since no one's shooping at Bangkok's abandoned New World Shopping Mall, other than thrill-seekers browsing for spooks, it might as well be the setting for a murder.
Interestingly, this is Check Inn at its original location up Nana way, and meanwhile Big Mac is opening an office downstream on Soi 33, “Soi Dead Artists”, which is where Check Inn lives now. Coincidence or prescience, it’s hard to say two years on, though Locke does allude to “the impending forced closing” of Check Inn.
It turned out to be a forced move, as did the closure of restaurant Hemingway’s, also mentioned here. But, back then, “A pall of despair had begun to hover over Bangkok’s substantial expat community. The iconic venues where they had spent their carefree nights were coming down one by one.”
This gets Mac thinking about the current of religious zealotry already darkening his case, in which the killer he’s stalking anticipates the fall of Jerusalem and the apocalypse foretold in the Bible.
Pairing Bangkok’s redevelopment with end-of-times Revelations is quite a stretch, but Locke has much in common with his fellow taffy-puller Dan Brown, including a filing cabinet full of historical and hysterical cross-references, certain reservations about the Church and a gift for page-turner suspense. Even Constantine Phaulkon will eventually show up.
So, we have plenty of living persons wafting in and out in a parade of pals, but Big Mac has his own roster of well-sketched fictional characters to bed, bemuse or batter. The classic tough guy with a heart of gold, Mac is as smart as he is self-deprecating and carries the yarn all over town with a measured manliness.
He gets to Above 11, Grease, Cheap Charlie’s, the Baiyoke Tower, a B&D joint, Charley Brown’s Mexicana, Sacha’s Hotel Uno, the S33 Hotel and the Sukhumvit Grande, and a couple of key scenes take place at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church – those shady priests, you see.
That’s a scary place, if you abide by what Locke says is in the cellar, but the hairiest stuff happens amid the decaying fallen-Jerusalem temple known as the New World Shopping Mall, one of Bangkok’s “ghost towers” abandoned when the cash ran dry.
Mac’s go-go-dancer girlfriend Ai doubles as his “secretary” but is more co-investigator, prodding the case along when one of her customers “tips” her with a passage from Revelations. It’s a clue to the occult madness that’s inked all over what begins as a double murder and then swiftly multiplies.
A Christian is on a “divine project” to eliminate sin on Soi Cowboy. On a bed sheet at the first crime scene he’s left an intricate rendering in the victims’ blood of Albrecht Durer’s seven-headed beast.
Panic over a serial killer is not something the ruling junta would have wanted just prior to the constitutional referendum a couple of years back, so Mac is told to keep his snooping sneaky and his cop partner, Doi, is ordered into plainclothes.
The writing in “Repent” is not destined to win a Pulitzer. “The big breakfast put me in the mind of sleep. But that would have to wait,” goes one passage, going nowhere. But there are some admirable turns of the language, such as “Peter Daly wore defeat much like a runway model flashing the newest design.”
Pete is recently landed in Bangkok from Birmingham – “he waddled onto a plane and into the heart of hedonism” – and he’s already heartbroken.
Mac has been there and done all that and frequently encounters former girlfriends who still lust for his warmth. The female form is admired. “She was hot in a Japanese geisha way.” But his heart and other parts now belong solely to Ai.
“Riding Ai, listening to her cries of passion, completely took me out of the world and cast all worries and stress to the curb. So it was no surprise that the pounding on the door went unnoticed.”
If in his erotic throes Locke can be politically incorrect, he largely makes up for it by forcing his protagonist to settle down and stay faithful. In some of the book’s more engaging entries, Mac contemplates a quieter, more balanced life and yearns along with Ai to have kids. “Perhaps the freedom that was a rogue’s life was gone,” he thinks. “Now I DID have something to lose.”
Repent: A Bangkok Murder Mystery by T Hunt Locke
Published by Locke via Amazon, 2016
Available at Amazon.com,Kindle US$2.99 (Bt97)