Killing Plato is back again after the critically acclaimed Laundry Man, but this time Jack Shepherd is up to his knees in shit. Nothing unusual here, but it’s how he wiggles his way out of it that’s interesting – always coming out smelling like roses. He’s a cat that always falls on his fours, all the time.
You can hear throughout the narrative, the Chulalongkong Professor saying, “I’m innocent.” He is, but somehow he finds himself in exceptional circumstances. More like a victim of circumstance, I can hear Shepherd mumble to himself as he inhales his cigar. Admittedly, he thrives on pushing the envelope, a brief escapade from his middle class sensibilities.
Shepherd has got the Feds and the US Marshals all over him, and now he’s been asked by the Thai equivalent of the CIA to help get the American fugitive a pardon from the President.
Needham writes, that “Plato Karsarkis was rich and famous, an international celebrity straight out of the pages of Vanity Fair, ” and though he’s been indicted by a New York grand jury ” for smuggling Iraqi oil” and being charged with “racketeering and money laundering, that doesn’t stop him looking for a Presidential pardon.
The tale begins at an upmarket bar in Phuket, where Karsarkis is waiting for Shepherd, asking him for a “presidential pardon” so he can return to America and visit his daughter. You can even hear the incorruptible Shepherd chuckle at this proposition. Though Shepherd has contacts at the White House, he is hostile to the idea and won’t have anything to do with harboring a fugitive. Not even a gift of a house in a nice part of Phuket will entice him, and this causes friction with his Italian girlfriend, Anita, a famous artist, who acts as a kind of counter weight to the eccentric professor.
Throw a chilling secret in the mix, betrayals, standard violence -there’s always spectacular shoot outs – Jack is catapulted back into a life he thought he had left behind, a constant theme in the Shepherd series.
“The Marshals aren’t really in Phuket to arrest Plato Karsarkis at all,” writes Needham, “They’re there to kill him.” This conjures up scenarios, crooks masquerading as Marshals, changed allegiances, and more questions than answers.
Jake Needham writes on several levels, a “sophisticated take on Asian Intrigue that provides rich satisfaction…” He has humor, is gritty – you can smell the klongs in his description – has insights, both political and cultural, and is right on the money with the intrigues of governments, criminals and free floating entities.
Jake’s specialty, besides spinning a pacey and racey yarn, is to solidify it with candid descriptions of the land marks. He calls Bourbon Steet, a well known expat haunt on Sukunvitt, the the preferred hang out of spooks, spies and diplomats. And understandably this is where Jack gets a tip off that someone is looking for him. They make a good coffee here too, and have copies of the International Herald Tribune, where Jack gets updated on Plato case.
Bourbon Street is the old stomping ground of the former lawyer from the US. Jack Shepherd uses his sphere of influence to read a file released to him by head of the head of Thai security on Plato. She’s a female, who enlightens him that women in Thailand run the country, and in the last book, A World of Trouble, she’ll be an ally and help prevent a civil war ruining the Kingdom.
If you have read A World of Trouble or Laundry Man, you’ll realize that Jack is incorruptible and has a knack for wading through murky waters with aptitude. For anyone who has lived in Thailand long enough, you’ll enjoy the insights Jake offers. It’s all constructive criticism which might not endear him with the Thais, but that’s the high mark for Needham who won’t sacrifice or water down the truth for the sake of a robust story.
Constant characters crop up throughout the second book, that I was introduced in the first and third, which I’ve read in that order. This gives you a good command post to kind of predict the outcome. But the twists get you all the time, and come totally out of the blue.
Integrity could be Needham’s middle name, and that might explain the hard core following his has with the expat crowd who now have access to all his books on Kindle. Over the years, Jake Needham books seemed conspicuously absent in the Thai books shops.
Jake doesn’t disappoint. His humor and cynical take on the Thais is refreshing, and endearing. Who wants to read a book that panders to the power’s that be. Jake is also cultivating another series, his Inspector Tay, and I’ve got the new The Umbrella Man on my Kindle, and will be reading avidly, and enjoying a vicarious trip to Asia again.