Karlin's fourth novel (The Extras; Lost Armies, etc.), set in Thailand and Burma, is part MIA adventure, part opium-lord showdown. Despite some effective use of hallucination imagery, it's also contrived and cluttered—as though Karlin felt the necessity to include every clichÇ from Vietnam and its aftermath. Loman is a veteran who ``never had to kill anyone'' during the war. Now, he runs a bar in Bangkok, where his buddies have names like ``Fat Al,'' ``Chuckie's-in-Love,'' and ``Helicopter Harry,'' and where his instinct is to protect his girls from groping German tourists. ``Being a daddy is bad for business,'' his partner Jimmy Change tells him. ``Girls just want to have fun.'' Loman, that is, was ``a good and fair pimp.'' Once we've been treated to such local color and slice-of-life, the action begins. Congressman Mundy, who likes to think of himself as ``the vet's best friend,'' shows up on an ``unofficial'' fact-finding mission concerning MIAs; he's being guided by Weyland, who is, of course (as we discover down the line), using Mundy as a puppet. Next thing we know, Loman is on a plane for Burma, where he's supposed to meet Aung Khin, an opium trade lord. After bits of tough-guy talk, Loman and the filmmakers are pulled from an Econoline van in the mountains into the heart of darkness. You name it, Karlin includes it: cross-dressing, stories within stories, BVDs strewn on mountain paths, kidnappings and deaths. First, Mundy is blown away because he's supercilious, then Weyland buys it. Loman is finally rescued, debriefed, and told that anything he chooses to reveal is ``unofficial and deniable.'' He gets a one-way ticket home. Mercifully, the story fades to black. Karlin layers the novel with mythological Vietnamese riffs, but most readers will be too weary—after battling superficial characterizations and one plot contrivance after another—to care much one way or the other.
Read full book review >