Explosive and evocative, THE CAMBODIAN BOOK OF DEAD is a deceptive piece of fiction which at once envelopes the reader in a distinct time and place while enabling a birds eye view of the more macabre side of human nature. Herein lies a multi faceted plot which threads are as deadly as the characters they follow. From unassuming barmen, Cambodian goddesses, journalists, to the Khmer Rouge - author Tom Vater instills a sense of murder lurking at every turn for Detective Maier as he undertakes a case to track down an heir to a coffee empire.
There is an underlying sense of brutality and violence bubbling beneath the surface courtesy of General Tep and The White Spider - two bad men who shape the story's past and present. These characters play the perfect ying to Maier's yang. Seeing through the smoke and mirrors, these two make life difficult for the endearing protagonist as he attempts to bring home his target (German coffee heir Rolf).
Adding to Maier's troublesome plight is Kaley, a beautiful Cambodian woman who has a deadly grip on Rolf, one that may well cost him his life. There is an almost mythical quality to Kaley that is hard to ignore. Vater writes his characters with a lot of heart and emotion, each is rendered perfectly and memorable.
THE CAMBODIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD works so well on many levels for me. It's a PI story with a lot of situational depth and deep characterisation. Cambodia is as much a character as Maier; dangerous places for dangerous liaisons. While the core case takes a back step to character evolution, it doesn't hinder the intimacy of the story. I love it when books surprise me and this one certainly did; simplistic in premise, complex in delivery. I highly recommend.