I stayed up much too late last night, motionless on my sofa, racing my way through The Man with the Golden Mind. This morning I feel a bit groggy, still caught in Laos with one of the most attractive characters in crime fiction, Maier.
First introduced in The Cambodian Book of the Dead, Maier is a German journalist turned private detective, a man who knows Southeast Asia well. In his mid-forties, he’s “tired but not finished,” with a hard-earned reputation as an “Asia expert,” and a man who allows little to escape his green-eyed stare. Hired by beautiful Julia Rendell to discover who killed her father in rural Laos twenty-five years earlier, Maier immediately finds the job will be far from easy when his client is kidnapped soon after she retains him.
In Laos, he bumps up against past history and a dazzling panoply of international obstructions, from the well-preserved karaoke-singing Mr. Mookie, whose passion for bar-girls covers a coldblooded interior, to the Teacher, a one-legged ex-CIA agent, crazed but still deadly, who heads the Free State of Mind in the middle of the Laos jungle. Then there’s Kanitha, who says she’s a journalist but has the mind and heart of a true killer.
As he travels through northern Laos, searching for his client and the answers she has hired him to uncover, Maier discovers strange links to a mystery of his own, as well as unexploded ordnance and hints of a lost file from the days of the American War—one that could blow the lid off modern-day alliances. When a former associate, “a gay Russian hit man,” suddenly shows up in the mix, Maier is drawn deep into a morass of nation against nation, where individual lives are valueless.
Tom Vater is a master of plot and character, which puts The Man with the Golden Mind at the top of my list of memorable crime fiction. But what keeps me reading everything this man writes is his stunning sense of place. Bangkok, he says, is “a metropolis of ten million people who never talked to each other but smiled and smiled and smiled.” The mercilessly-bombed Plain of Jars is “a giant’s golf course” and a crisp description of “the last frontier for the Lonely Planet set” is precise, satirical, and right on target. And then there’s Maier, a man who uses only his surname—and when Vater finally explains why, readers can only sympathize.
Addiction is a pitiable state to live in. I know. I face a long, miserable withdrawal period before I spend another night with one of Tom Vater’s books, gulping down the chapters and savoring the journey that this writer always provides. Kathmandu, Cambodia, Laos…I can’t wait to see where we go next…~Janet Brown