Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Review of The Cambodian Book of the Dead by Tom Vater

Cover links to Amazon
Description (From NetGalley)

Private eye and former war reporter, Maier is sent to Cambodia to track down the missing heir to a Hamburg coffee empire.
His search leads him into the darkest corners of the country’s history, through the Killing Fields of the communist revolution, to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungle.
But the terrifying tale of mass murder that Maier uncovers is far from over. And soon Maier realises that, if he is to prevent more innocent lives from being destroyed, he will have to write the last horrific chapter himself.
The Cambodian Book of the Dead – it’s where Apocalypse Now meets The Beach…

My Review
Having been to Cambodia myself, I really wanted to enjoy this book. The first chapter was great and I was confident that I was in for a great ride. Unfortunately, it ended there. There is the makings of a very good story here but it reads more like a bad tour guide than a novel. The author seems intent on getting across just how much he knows about Cambodia and it's history at the the expense of the story.
The dialogue all felt wrong; there were no contractions in the main characters speech (and very few, if any, in the other characters'). I don't know anyone who speaks this way and it made the dialogue very stilted. The lack of dialogue tags was also very confusing at times and I found I had to keep going back to try and work out who was speaking.
There were lots of irrelevant passages that had nothing at all to do with the story and some of the descriptions were just plain weird, such as the character describing himself on the plane by giving a list of his vital statistics, and in one scene he even lists every item on someone's breakfast plate instead of just saying it was a fry-up. It almost felt like the author was just trying to bump up the word count.
The story does pick up pace just past half way but by then it was too late and I just could not bring myself to like the flat and two-dimensional characters or care what happened to them. 
As I said at the start, there is a good story in there trying to get out. I just think the author needs to step out of his own way and give his characters more of a voice because at the minute they all sound the same and it comes across as more journalistic than as creative fiction.
I give The Cambodian Book of the Dead 2 out of 5.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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