Metaphors of Death

[Here is a book review I wrote for Chiang Mai City News a few months back but never got around to posting here]:

Metaphors of Death is written by former Chiang Mai resident and Netherlands author, Dick Holzhaus. The plot involves philosophizing reporter, Tom Terrence for LannaLife Online. In spite of the facts (or perhaps because of them) that Tom is a former glue sniffing teen from England, with drug and alcohol addictions, he has been offered a promotion from the food and entertainment magazine to that of Editor for a planned online legitimate newspaper. Tom’s also a misogynist or a whore lover, depending upon your point of view, with a penchant for variety of all kinds as long as it doesn’t involve material possessions.

The story opens with a poisoned batch of yaa baa making the rounds through the Rose of the North. Tom likes his medicine crazy, he buys a bag, smokes it and ends up spending a week in a coma. He awakes to learn that the same faulty meth he purchased has claimed the lives of three foreigners plus a Colonel in the Royal Thai Police. One of the dead may have been murdered and gay rape is involved because, why not? This gets the attention of the BBC who wish to take care of their own and take on the Thai  police and military brass as well. A turf war and cover-up over major drug trafficking is in the mix. Jon a well-connected Thai national and owner/publisher of LannaLife Online cooperates with the BBC on the story and Tom ends up assigned as translator and peer for BBC journalist, Rick Drummond.

An international drug and death investigation story in tourist-town Mecca coincides with the launch of the online newspaper. The chance for Tom to become a real alcoholic-journalist appears to be in the cards. His future’s so bright he’s gotta wear Ray Ban’s. There is also a dogeared manuscript Tom has been working on for years as a struggling writer, preserved in a plastic bag. It is either potential kindling for a fire or Booker Prize material, depending on Tom’s meds. Our leading man still finds time for a genuine romantic interest to appear and she neatly doubles as a helpful editor.

I’ll let the brooding prose of Dick Holzhaus take over from here:

On Tom’s abode:

My one room apartment is deliberately depressing. I’m a prisoner of life so I live in a cell. It’s shabbiness reminds me of being a convict, my penal servitude lies on the rickety table against the wall.

On the mountains of Chiang Mai:

I like sitting in the dark on the mountainside next to someone who is new here and looks at it with different eyes. That really makes me belong here. Then I realize my confidence is backed by the cabin behind me. However familiar as a view, at nightfall the jungle becomes alien territory. This world turns pitch black for a change of shifts, pieces of bark and soil move and life forms that can see in the dark appear. Distant fires flicker through the canopy, not spreading their light, just glowing pin pricks in a black vacuum.

On Tom’s favorite philosopher:

Celine never theorized, he is the only philosopher that truly dissected the nature of humankind by describing revealing events. Maybe a proper war would help my writing.

On drugs and alcohol:

If I don’t take control soon, alcohol and drugs will be the end of me. Tonight is Friday, so that’s okay, everybody has a drink on Friday. I look at my glass, still half full with this treacherous stuff. Burping in my fist I realize I might be expelling pure alcohol fumes. I have to find out if I’m a dragon. I swallow air and burp loud at the candle on the table, it extinguishes.

On western women:

Straight western women have the worst deal here. Thai men find them big, smelly and bossy. The few white women that have relationships with Thai men are looked down upon by their peers. Having sex with animals would be less dishonouring.

On prostitution: 

Our initial rent negotiations consisted of Adelina instructing me how she wants it and after some fine tuning that’s how she gets it … That’s how I earn fifty percent discount in weekly installments. After two months I still find the paying rent exciting. I like being a male prostitute.

On Tom’s view of Bangkok:

I don’t see a thriving society. Bangkok is way past livability. I would die here in two months. Everything is upside down; filth and crime have become integral parts of this pool of doom. The glamorous high rises are all paid for with drug money.

On Bangkok water taxis:

I would never sit inside a water-taxi. I can picture the scene when that thing hits a tow-boat at full speed. The captain and crew are in a world of their own. Thais change when they control motorized vehicles; no more sabai-sabai, no more graeng jai, no more smile.

On the BBC:

We are the bloody BBC! We are not impressed by police officers that think they’re bleedin’ emperors. We have two dead Brits here, murdered or killed in a popular tourist destination. We are going to find out all there is to know. Period.

On family: 

…the front door opens and my older sister appears. Still living here; too ugly to marry, I guess. I point at her while I shout at my mother. “Why could she stay and I not?”

Despite the Gloomy Gus tone throughout the book, Metaphors of Death has a happy ending – several, actually. Things work out well for LannaLife and Tom’s career.  I would have liked to have seen more of an antagonist character developed for Tom to take on, besides Bangkok and western women, I mean. The drug dealer was a possibility but he vanishes after the first third of the book. More of the well-heeled Jon and the minimalist Tom in the newsroom would have been another enjoyable scenario – like a reverse gender Perry White and Lois Lane from The Daily Planet.

For readers looking for a peculiar yarn, featuring a quirky yet oddly likable protagonist tethered mostly to an accurate Chiang Mai backdrop, Metaphors of Death by former ad man, Dick Holzhaus may be right up your alley.  At 160 pages, it can easily be read on one long flight. Ebook may be found through Spanking Pulp Press, Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble.



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