May 28, 2016

Cambodia Noir - Nick Seeley

Scribner, March 15, 2016.

Four Stars

Phnom Penh, Cambodia is the end of the road for a group of washed up journalists, including our protagonist Will Keller. He is a photographer, working for a friend who edits a local newspaper, and drifting in a haze of drugs and alcohol – which inevitably lead to sex and violence. Will is halfway through a downward spiral in a city that’s easy to get lost in, when he accidentally photographs a major governmental conspiracy in the works. Other journalists are getting killed for less, so Will burrows deeper into the underground world of Cambodia.

Meanwhile, Will is approached by a woman named Kara Saito – she has come to Phnom Penh to find her missing sister June, who was interning at Will’s newspaper. June left the city to track down a story in the surrounding countryside, and she hasn’t been seen or heard from since. She left behind her luggage in Will’s apartment building, including a journal from her travels around the world. As Will flips through the words and pictures in hope of finding a clue to June’s whereabouts, he begins to realize that she was not who she said she was, and Kara might not be either.

Will inefficiently attempts to track down June, and even her travel diaries are not much help – she travelled to many countries, seeking something that is left undefined. Meanwhile, the government is in an uproar over the incident from Will’s photographs, and the seedy underworld of Phnom Penh is closing ranks around the journalist expats. It probably helps to know a little bit about Cambodia’s political situation to follow the events of the novel, but in any case, there’s no mistaking the gritty, depraved world of poverty, drugs and prostitution.

Both the language and setting are realistic and evocative – reading this novel feels like slipping into Will’s sweaty, drug-induced nightmare. The effect is hallucinatory, intense and exciting, especially for a debut novel. The story moves quickly, and it is a thrilling ride. This is true noir, at its best.

I received this novel from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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