This was my first read of a T Hunt Locke novel. Mr Locke is an expat businessman and author living in northern Thailand.
Declan Power is a good old boy in a Mike Hammer kind of way, with a better personality, no tie or hat, a keen sense of humor and a positive outlook on life. Declan is a newspaper man, working for the Chiang Mai Chronicle. He’s always looking for the angle of a story or the right curves for his second gig, a night life oriented column featuring the red light district of Chiang Mai. He’s a man of distinction and taste, particularly if it comes from a Victoria’s Secret catalog or the bottom of a scotch bottle. An old school, red head of Irish decent; he likes his liquor, ladies and smokes. Declan can take a slap to the face and keep on smiling and he’s still agile and adventurous enough to go for the belly flop from the balcony when push comes to shove. Loyal to his friends, lovable and protective of his girlfriend, Oem. I liked Declan.
The novel starts off with an envelope stuffed with cash and a plea from an old foe and missing person. A TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) scam involving big bucks, which Declan had uncovered as part of a previous investigative series is in the mix. From this modest beginning the mystery expands, cleverly, to an ambitious and entertaining tale. Locke does a good job of blending Thai history, politics, class and corruption while stirring in plenty of sex, violence, murder and gore.
There is also a very good Bangkok elite vs Chiang Mai elite rivalry going on. A primary character is a visiting investigator from the Bangkok branch of the Department of Tax and Revenue, referred to mostly in the novel as, Bangkok Man. Here is a sample of Locke’s narrative voice and dialogue when Declan meets Bangkok Man for the first time:
Bangkok Man smiled. The smile matched his bright tie: pure silk. “Mr. Power, my name is Phitak Pantrem. I have a few questions and I am truly sorry to take up any of your time.”
Silk was the flavor of the day Declan thought. His jaw remained set. But inside he allowed himself a smile. Silk tie, silk smile, a silky tongue, Bangkok Man had it all. The story, his story, just got richer.
“I’m always happy to help, ” Declan answered evenly.
Also in the yarn are the present day politics of Bangkok and the proud history of Chiang Mai’s great Lan Na heritage along with a devious, sinister and well funded plan to secede Northern Thailand and return it to a glorious if not problematic past. Terror is part of that plan and there are some very savage, brutal and graphic murders taking place in Chiang Mai, frightening the local lassies. To help sell papers the mass murderer is coined the Lan Na Ripper by beat reporter Declan.
Just as Declan has a bit of Mike Hammer in him, T Hunt Locke has some Micky Spillane similarities to his writing style. What I like about Locke as a new on the scene novelist is that he writes. A lot. This is already his second protagonist planned for a mystery series and his third crime novel. He has written two previous books in the Sam Collins series: The Ming Inheritance and Jim Thompson is Alive!
Raymond Chander’s first novel was, The Lady in the Lake. I read it. I thought it was flawed and didn’t particularly like it compared to Chandler’s later work. I’m currently reading, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which was Hemingway’s first novel. It too, I find flawed. The truth of the matter is, whether you are T. Hunt Locke, Raymond Chandler or Ernest Hemingway, writers tend to get better the more they write. My first impression of T Hunt Locke, as a novelist, is that he does a lot of things well – Locke is not bashful about using his imagination. I think he has written an entertaining novel for crime fiction readers, particularly if you like some erotica and Thailand history thrown in.
If The Chiang Mai Chronicle: A Declan Power Mystery was a granite sculpture it would be large in scale, eye catching and artfully crafted. But one that could still use a few more hits with the hammer and chisel. Less can be more. That said, if you are an expat living in Thailand and enjoy a good romp of a mystery with some well researched history, along with an affable protagonist, I recommend The Chiang Mai Chronicle by T Hunt Locke. I look forward to seeing what conclusions Declan comes to and what balconies he might jump from in his next mystery.
At $1.99 on Amazon you get good bang for the two bucks, whether you live in Thailand or anywhere else in the world.
This Review was previously published at Chiang Mai City News and may be viewed there by clicking the banner above.