A Good Death by Christopher R. Cox is an atmospheric almost-traditional mystery set in Thailand (available February 19, 2013).
A woman is found dead of an apparent OD in a grimy backpackers’ hostel in Thailand, a needle still stuck in her arm. A passport found at the scene identifies her as Linda Watts, a Thai refugee who found her way to the U.S. as a child, and supposedly made good in the finance industry. It soon comes to light that a half-million-dollar life insurance policy was up for grabs, and Linda Watts’s insurance company believes she’s still alive. Enter PI Sebastian (Bass) Damon. Soon, Damon is in Thailand and up to his eyeballs in trouble. After all, Thailand is a whole other world, full of corruption, death, and wild, exotic beauty. Is Linda Watts’s death a good death? That’s what Sebastian must prove, against all odds. Unfortunately, his surroundings constantly work against him, and it’s this use of time and place (Thailand in the ’90s) that makes this mystery so atmospheric.
When Sebastian arrives in Thailand, he’s immediately assaulted by the sights and sounds that surround him.
I rolled down a back window and drank in the stew of internal combustion, and infernal temperatures. In the distance, thunder groaned like a hospice patient. Thailand didn’t waste time. As soon as you arrived, it plunged you into its labyrinth of heat and intrigue, scents and secrets, traffic and lies.
On his way to visit the coroner who supposedly handled Linda’s body, his new environment continues to assault him relentlessly.
I had barely settled into the tuk-tuk when the low, roiling clouds released waves of warm rain that pounded the vehicle’s roof like a thousand deranged sheet-metal workers. The flimsy vehicle’s open-sided construction offered little shelter; I was soaked within a minute. There was nothing to do but sit there and take the downpour and the car exhaust. We plodded along in near gridlock for forty-five minutes before reaching the nerve center of Thai law enforcement—a secondary road lined with dreary ferroconcrete office buildings standing like a row of cavity-riddled teeth.
When he arrives at the coroner’s, he quickly realizes that things here are very different from the way they are in the U.S.
Outside, an ancient, withered woman sold days-old garlands of jasmine. The pungent flowers and the astringent scent of disinfectant in the lobby could not chase the indelible stain of death. The place smelled like a slaughterhouse. A registrar who spoke a bit of English took my request. While she went to make me an official copy of the autopsy report, I killed time in a hallway lined with glass-covered display cases that held luridly colored Polaroids of the nameless dead, gruesome portraits of disfigured, bloated, and decayed corpses that had met their maker in lonely, violent ways.
Eventually, Sebastian does, indeed, smell a rat, but after constant runaround with the local police, he decides to hunt down an old friend of his father’s from their war days in Vietnam. The friend has been living in Thailand for quite a while now, and can navigate the treacherous terrain and the locals with ease. Sebastian soon discovers there’s much more to this case than meets the eye, and his chances of getting out of Thailand alive are rapidly dwindling.
I found myself wondering over and over how I would survive in such an alien place, with only my wits and a few baht, and the thought terrified me, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the temerity, strength, and sheer toughness of the Thai people, and their undeniably seductive country.
A Good Death is not only a mystery, but it is a rich account of a country in turmoil, reeling from deep recession and crushing poverty. You can almost smell the street food and feel the crushing humidity as you read. Pick up A Good Death for the promise of mystery, and stay for the mesmerizing account of an exotic place that’s so beautiful, it’s deadly.
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