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Ghost Money by Andrew Nette

Ghost Money (edition 2012)

by Andrew Nette

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Title:Ghost Money
Authors:Andrew Nette
Info:Snubnose Press (2012), Kindle Edition, 227 pages
Collections:Your library

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Ghost Money by Andrew Nette



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Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of an unstable coalition government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessman Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan.

But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with Heng Sarin, a local journalist, Quinlan's search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia's bloody past.

Ghost Money is a crime novel, but it's also about Cambodia in the mid-nineties, a broken country, and what happens to people who are trapped in the cracks between two periods of history, locals and foreigners, the choices they make, what they do to survive.

"Ghost Money is a fast-paced, atmospheric crime novel. Its journey into a cynical and treacherous world is tense and suspenseful." - Garry Disher

Ghost Money was a first for me. Whilst I have previously read a lot of books both fact and fiction concerning the conflict of the 60's and 70's in Vietnam, I never extended my reading vistas to encompass other areas of South-East Asia, although I'm not too sure how many other crime fiction books there are set in Cambodia.
Ghost Money was an eye-opener for me. Nette, with his debut novel, drags Cambodia and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge back into the daylight 30-odd years after the horrors of Pol Pot and his followers have been largely forgotten by the rest of the world.
The novel, set in Cambodia in the mid-90's, is as much a history lesson as it is a crime novel. Nette displays empathy for the Cambodian people and the harsh brutalities that have been inflicted on them by a succession of oppressors or liberators........forced migration and genocide, American carpet bombing, Vietnamese invasion and occupation, on-going civil war, refugee camps, Soviet interest and abandonment, UN lip-service and ultimately worldwide apathy and indifference once the news reels had changed their focus and moved on.
The crime element has Quinlan, ex-cop turned PI hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery. Avery, suspected of murder in Thailand is tracked by Quinlan to Phnom Penh. Quinlan enlists local and Aussie ex-pat help in his efforts to unravel Avery's whereabouts. Avery with dodgy business dealings in gems and a fake mine has annoyed his fellow entrepreneurs. Unfortunately for Avery and now Quinlan several of these erstwhile partners have psychopathic personalities and an aversion to being played. Quinlan ends up in a battle to save himself from being added to the death toll, in a country where life is cheap and can be bought for a few dollars.
Bloody, pacey, intriguing and educational; I enjoyed this journey through Cambodia in the capable hands of the author. I'll be keeping an eye out for his next offering whenever that comes about.
4 from 5

I obtained a review copy from the author himself. ( )
  col2910 | Feb 28, 2013 |
The thing that struck me most about GHOST MONEY was the feeling of authenticity and detail about a period in Cambodian/Vietnamese history that I have lived through but am sadly ignorant about, despite Australia's involvement in the so-called Vietnam War. Andrew Nette uses his principal characters and those whom they meet, to deliver a series of mini-history lessons, starting with Australian/Vietnamese Max Quinlan's own background.

In a strange way, Quinlan and Cambodia had history. Memories of his father shouting at their black and white television, on the screen, Asian soldiers, terrified faces under steel helmets too large for their heads, running from an invisible enemy, the sky behind them full of fire and smoke.

It was 1975; Max was nine years old. Phnom Penh was about to fall to the Khmer Rouge. His father Lester Quinlan was stationed in neighbouring Vietnam as an Australian army advisor in the mid-sixties and images of the war had been commonplace in the lounge room of their house in North Melbourne.

The images fascinated Quinlan as a child, only becoming menacing with his father’s growing agitation over the course of the conflict. When Saigon had fallen a month earlier, Lester Quinlan had yelled at the newsreader like an irate football fan castigating an umpire for a bad decision. Maxwell Quinlan had been born in the port town of Vung Tau in 1965. Three months later his Vietnamese mother was killed when a bomb exploded in the local market where she was shopping. Lester brought the boy home – his last act of bravery before drink and bitterness consumed him.

Quinlan's search for missing businessman Charles Avery takes him, and the reader of course, from Thailand to Phnom Penh. Despite the slabs of historical detail, or maybe because of the vividness of it, we remain engaged in the realism of the search for Avery and an understanding of what he is up to.

An impressive debut novel hardly surprising given Nette's own journalistic experience, and interest in pulp fiction. ( )
  smik | Feb 13, 2013 |
Start out reading GHOST MONEY and you're quickly immersed in a tight, tough, noir story set mostly in Cambodia. But don't be surprised if at some point, you also find yourself right smack bang in the middle of a history lesson and a subtle exploration of racial politics.

Knowing a little of Nette's interest in pulp fiction, I confess that the taut, noir stylings of GHOST MONEY didn't come as any surprise whatsoever, so for this reader, what was most rewarding about the book was the unexpected complexity of the central character, Max Quinlan. As well as one hell of a plot that just does ... not ... let ... go.

In a testament to the power of the storytelling there's something very matter-of-fact about the son of a Vietnamese woman and an Australian Vietnam vet as an ex-cop, a specialist in finding people who would rather stay lost. It also seems to go without saying that Quinlan, despite his lack of extensive PI experience, and his own misgivings, would find himself in SE Asia looking for the once successful Melbourne lawyer Charles Avery. Who is now a missing, dodgy gems trader whose sister wants to know what happened to her brother. It doesn't come as any surprise at all that Quinlan would follow the clues to post Khmer Rouge Cambodia and right smack bang into the madness of a country still recovering from the extremes of that regime.

What's also frighteningly matter-of-fact and at the same time very revealing, is the nature of the world in which Quinlan moves. The tension between Cambodian and Vietnamese, the vulnerability of people in a society that's been so brutalised, the casual way in which life is regarded as dispensable, and the greed and self-interest. Quinlan survives because of his own background, because he can read people, because he can see things and people for exactly what they are. And because he's careful about who he allows to get close.

It's one thing to know the theoretical history of a place, it's another completely to see the outcomes from within, to experience the result from the point of view of a direct observer or participant. That is part of what's so clever about GHOST MONEY. In the character of Quinlan, Nette has created a very realistic dichotomy. A man with an Asian look, yet his knowledge of his Vietnamese mother is non-existent. Australian raised, by a man who was profoundly damaged. Thai speaking, but looking enough Vietnamese to be regarded as suspicious by the Cambodians, there's so much about this man that demonstrates perfectly the complexities of the Vietnamese / Cambodian / Australian experience. Pairing him with Sarin, a Cambodian who has had direct and devastating experience of the Khmer Rouge, who remains in his damaged and difficult country, desperately trying to find a way to continue to survive, he's realistic and considered. He's all too aware of the difference between the reality and western perception of Cambodia, he's not an observer, he is the experience.

Great characters are one thing, but stick them into a plot that is not just realistic, but tight and fast moving, and frankly, nerve-racking, and something else starts to happen. Again, there was something so matter-of-fact about the lows that people will sink too when it comes to greed and self-interest, the way that loyalties shift and personal gain remains paramount that was chilling, especially when you match that up with the extreme violence of whatever it takes to win attitudes. Fingers crossed GHOST MONEY is the start of a new series.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/ghost-money-andrew-nette ( )
  austcrimefiction | Aug 24, 2012 |
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