THAI HORSE by William Diehl


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Diehl has yet to match the sizzle of his debut thriller, 1978's Sharkey's Machine, but this entertaining--and derivative--Asian-based sprawl about a renegade agent returning for one last job comes much closer than the laborious Chameleon (1981) and Hooligans (1984). After years of unjust solitary imprisonment (shades of The Count of Monte Cristo?), a superspy/assassin (Shibumi?) retires and trades in stolen art masterpieces (The Eiger Sanction?), only to be contacted by his old boss to find an MIA in Southeast Asia (Rambo?). And so on. But to his credit, Diehl juggles others' ideas with aplomb as he relates the bloody saga of Christian Hatcher's search for Murph Cody, MIA son of a top general. Enticed into the search by Harry Sloan, the Machiavellian leader of the ""Shadow Army"" (assassins) to which he once belonged, Hatcher meets both old friend and foe when he flies to Hong Kong to pick up Cody's trail. On the plus side, there's old pal and Hong Kong bigwig ""China"" Cohen, as well as old Eurasian flame Daphne Chieng (no full Asian makes it as a major good guy in this xenophobic epic); on the minus; there's Tollie Fong, a top Hong Kong gangster who's out to avenge Hatchet's long-ago killing of Fong's drag-runner dad. Splashing about in the local color, flashing back to his old Hong Kong days, learning more about Cody (is he a member of a heroin ring known as Thai Horse?), bedding Daphne, Hatcher tangles violently with Fong and then moves on to Thailand, where he mixes up with Diehl's best conceit ever--a genuine Wild West town deep in the jungle and inhabited by AWOL Americans. There, as Slosh gets what's coming to him and Daphne sadly gets what isn't, river pirates and a hunt for a man-eating tiger deter Hatcher only briefly from nobly fulfilling his quest. Familiar thriller fare, then, but packaged with flair and generous heapings of violence, sex, and Oriental mystique: satisfying enough.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1987
ISBN: 0345327454
Publisher: Villard/Random House