The first and last novel by the highly regarded short-story writer (Pure Slaughter Value, 1997) and founder-editor of Open City.
Bingham died last year, at age 33, but left behind this (apparently) finished volume, a dark, brooding thriller that draws heavily on his two years as a reporter for the Cambodian [CHECK]. The three key protagonists are one American innocent and two who are not so innocent. Desperate to leave Cambodia after a highly unsatisfying stint working with UNESCO restoring the country’s ancient temples, Asher plans a drug deal with his nervy, dropout girlfriend, Julie. The strategy: he'll buy a large quantity of pure heroin, which she'll sell at an enormous profit, through her sleaze-bag boss at the strip joint where she tends bar. All the two need is an unwitting sucker to bring the dope into the US. Enter Reese, a talented journalist who's going home to give a lecture at his old prep school and attend his sister’s wedding. Everything, however, quickly spins out of control: Asher is robbed and uses a loan shark to raise the capital for the buy; Julie, in a fit of paranoia about her employer, steals the drugs from Reese, who now finds himself being hunted by a stranger for no apparent reason. Eventually the action returns to Cambodia and a brutal yet all-too-believable climax. The author was clearly in the thrall of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers (albeit with echoes of Graham Greene, Malraux, and Conrad), but Lightning's first third is more pretentious and less focused than that brilliant work. Bingham lacks Stone's sense of the evil at work in the universe, as well as his precision and crackling dialogue. As the narrative continues, though, it picks up steam and has its own power.
As subtle as a blunt-force trauma. Not without flaws, but a work of some promise that, sadly, can never be fulfilled.