This is the third book in Needham’s Jack Shepherd series. It follows KILLING PLATO at the end of which Shepherd was fired by the Thai university where he had been teaching for getting involved in a very public controversy which the university saw as an embarrassment to Thailand. In A WORLD OF TROUBLE, Jack Shepherd is back to practicing law, back in the Land of Smiles, and happily more cynical than ever.
We meet Jack and his client, a wealthy former prime minister of Thailand who was ousted on corruption charges and is now living in splendid exile in Dubai. Charlie Kitnarok is a figure who bears more than a passing resemblance to Thaksin Shinawatra, who really IS a wealthy former prime minister of Thailand ousted on corruption charges and is now living in Dubai. There is an assassination attempt in Dubai and Jack saves his client, but Charlie manipulates the outcome, serving his own purpose. Charlie’s money needs to be moved out of Thailand. Money laundering and an understanding of Thai motives is why he has chosen Jack Shepherd to do it. There was much here about about the political and personal power struggles that underlie everything in Thailand and Needham uses the color-coded street battles that have wracked the country for several years now to sketch in the tension that has become part of everyday life in Thailand. There is much truth here in between the lines of fiction. For example, the excuse Shepherd uses to get Charlie’s money out of Thailand is that his client wants to buy a basketball team in LA. That’s really classic Needham, very much tongue in cheek. Didn’t Thaksin buy a football team in the UK? Just asking…
You won’t find the same enthusiasm and wonder about Thailand that you found in Needham’s first novel, THE BIG MANGO, but will you feel a depth and a maturity. The honeymoon is over, and now Shepherd knows the ropes. You get the feeling that this may be Needham’s swan song on Thailand. He has has staked his writing career on South East Asia, only to discover that the Thais don’t really care much for foreigners. I’ve noticed that this book isn’t getting nearly as much air play as it should in Thailand. My guess is that any mention of the country’s political upheavals by a foreigner is just too controversial for Thais to accept. That’s a shame. They might learn something they didn’t know about their own country by reading A WORLD OF TROUBLE.
This may well be the last of the Shepherd novels. If it is, I will miss them a great deal. Read this one and Needham will have you hooked, too.
Try The Ambassador’s Wife for something different, but still definitely Jake, who sets a detective novel in Singapore. And if you like that, the sequel, The Umbrella Man, is coming out this fall.