The specter of the Communist regime and the ghost of the Vietnam War loom large over this murder mystery set in present-day Vietnam.
Police Capt. Chyang Fang narrates his journey through political and cultural minefields as he searches for answers regarding multiple killings. He encounters identical clues at two gory crime scenes that point to someone exacting revenge against victims sharing an ugly past. Aided by his confidants, including the disfigured, ill-tempered medical examiner, Ngo, and the simple but loyal Sgt. Phan, Fang follows his instincts down a dangerous path. All of the victims rose to positions of authority in the government-constructed “communist fairyland,” in which, Fang says, “Poor students often don’t survive.” Fang’s dark cynicism not only fuels his off-color humor, but also provides a necessary outlet for a homicide detective working under a repressive system—one that’s reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of foul crimes in what he sarcastically calls the “people’s Eden” of Vietnam: “Few Sai Gon inhabitants…would dare call our leaders ‘pus buckets’ even when alone,” he notes. “For me, it was the one way I could battle the socialist machine.” His fellow citizens, as portrayed here, are far less cowed in their blunt discrimination against Fang due to his mixed Vietnamese-Chinese heritage. This inherent racism and ethnic mistrust are at the heart of a plot that unearths Vietnam’s violent past in a city that harbors dark secrets. One of the book’s strengths is how Lealos (Don’t Mean Nuthin’: A Military Trailer, 2015, etc.) uses Ho Chi Minh City as a lively story element rather than as a static backdrop. His descriptions of the former Saigon are vivid, featuring fruit proffered from carts in hot streets and dog meat masquerading as beef in four-star restaurants, and it’s all seasoned with very salty language; the mellifluous Vietnamese language, too, spices up the English dialogue.
A fresh, enjoyable crime novel that mixes its characters’ base, murderous motivations with a twist of intrigue and history.