Bleak debut thriller by Metzl, a former UN Human Rights Officer in Cambodia, about the inhumanity endemic to that troubled place.
It’s 1979, and Morgan O’Reilly, a no-nonsense Marine, gets what he first views as a bizarre assignment. He’s to set up a counterintelligence unit in Cambodia’s embattled city of Phnom Penh—composed of street kids! The US-backed Lon Nol army is being whipped by the communist Khmer Rouge, but Morgan’s boss has had this “creative” notion he hopes will slow the process. Phnom Penh is awash in orphans; nobody pays attention to them; and spies are people who can sniff out information mostly because nobody pays attention to them. So, armed with “small incentives”—the promise of decent food, reasonable shelter—Morgan, who speaks the language like a native, hits the streets. His recruiting is surprisingly productive and the team he assembles astonishingly effective. It’s more than a team, really. Morgan and his six resourceful urchins become a family—until the collapse of the American military effort changes everything. Morgan is forced to leave, abandoning all but one child, the boy closest to him, Sophal. Flash forward seven years. Morgan, embittered and cynical, is now a CIA desk officer whose approach to his work is as spiritless as his approach to life. Then he’s visited by Ted Dillon, flashy, ambitious, a member of the White House inner circle, who has a job for him he can’t refuse. Somewhere near the Thai-Cambodian border, Sophal, himself a CIA operative, has gone missing, and Dillon wants Morgan to find him. Morgan is much too savvy to believe that this is the only item on Dillon’s convoluted agenda, but he’s not at all prepared for at least one of the others—as no one could have been.
Cheerless, to be sure, but with the core thriller elements of plot and pace managed well enough to make for a promising start.