I have read and reviewed many Thailand-based books and, with very few exceptions, the majority of these books are made up of scenes that don’t really contribute to the development of the story, but rather show off the author’s knowledge on various aspects of Thai culture. For example, in a novel I’ve recently read, a visit to Pattaya’s red light district had no other purpose than introduce the reader to the ins and outs of the go-go bar scene. This might have been interesting for a reader who has never been to Thailand, but from a structural point of view, that respective scene had no purpose in the novel.
This case is different with Christopher G. Moore’s books, especially with his novels that present the life of Vincent Calvino, a New York private investigator stationed in Bangkok. Moore is one of (if not the) best known English language writer in Thailand and, through the years, he has proven that he has what is needed for a writer to keep the readers glued to the pages of his books. Maybe his most well known books about Thailand are the Vincent Calvino P.I. Series which has now reached its 12th volume.
Cold Hit, first published in 1999, is the sixth installment in the series and is now available both as a paperback (through Heaven Lake Press) and on various e-readers. Coming back to my remarks in the first paragraph, I have to mention that, although the action in Moore’s Cold Hit seems to branch out in several directions, with a plethora of memorable characters littering the pages of the books, each seemingly minding his or her own business, in the end, everything wraps up neatly. This suggests that the writer knew from the very beginning where his novel will go and every scene, no matter how short it is, contributes to the overall plot of the book.
Although Cold Hit is not the first book in the Calvino series, it reads easily as a stand alone novel. The few recurring characters from the previous books are given enough background so that the readers do not get confused. The novel starts with Vincent Calvino delivering a birthday card to a ying (a woman, in Thai) and his thoughts on the recent five foreigners who have died of drug overdoses in Bangkok. When Vincent discovers that all the victims were members of an Internet travel club called the Cause, he theorizes that they are the victim of a serial killer. But Colonel Pratt, his friend in the Thai Police, does not approve with his theory.
As soon as the reader is introduced to these two subplots, the author surfaces yet another subplot: at Pratt’s recommendation, Jess Santisak, an undercover LAPD cop of Thai blood, offers Vincent a well-paid job as the bodyguard of an LA lawyer who will travel to Thailand to sign a business deal. Things complicate when Wes Naylor, the lawyer, seemingly becomes the target of a commando team who also blows up Vincent’s car.
Soon the readers will find themselves keeping track of several subplots, from karaoke bar owners in LA trafficking drugs from Thailand to Thai singers who try to help their brothers get out of jail; from drug stakeouts and arrests in LA to undercover operations in Bangkok; from survival in the slums to the troublesome acquisition of a rundown hotel. And when the reader least expects it, you get a “cold hit”: two unrelated events are traced to the same location. This is the point when Moore starts picking up all the subplots he had constructed and uses them to build a tightly knit yarn. A more than satisfactory conclusion brings Calvino’s adventures in Cold Hit to an end, but a final twist in the tail wraps-up all remaining unanswered questions.
In Moore’s 2004 introduction to the Heaven Lake Press edition of Cold Hit, we find out that “Prior to the launch of the Vincent Calvino private-eye series in 1992 with Spirit House, no writer has set an English language crime series in Southeast Asia.” The writer goes on to point out the fact that, throughout his Calvino books, Bangkok becomes one of the overarching main characters of the series. Although they are fiction, the Vincent Calvino novels record the main events that have rocked the history of Thailand’s capital. Moore’s insights into the Thai society, economy and politics make the Calvino series a valuable radiography of what Bangkok looks like through the detached eyes of an expat living in Thailand.