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review 2014-03-12 20:26
The Cambodian Book of the Dead
The Cambodian Book of the Dead - Tom Vater

This was a strange read. It's my first experience of Exhibit A, and they've definitely hit me up with something unique and unexpected. It's a million miles away from anything I've encountered in crime fiction before.

 

So, first off the bat it gets points for originality. Although there are a fair few comparisons to be drawn with Alex Garland's The Beach, this one eventually veers off in a completely different direction and fully earns its "Unique" badge by the end.

 

The main issue I had with The Cambodian Book of the Dead was the fact that it reads, for about 50% of the time, more like a travel guide/history title than fiction. I think for readers who have a connection to, or specific interest in Cambodia this will be absolute heaven, but for your average common or garden crime fan I'd hazard the opinion that this is going to drag in places. In fact, for me, the entire first half of the novel, although well-written, felt laggy and frustrating. If it hadn't been a review copy I doubt I would have finished it. I would've missed out if that had been the case because it does pick up massively in the second half, and the last 25% of the novel is full-on action and intrigue all the way. And there were some lovely touches thrown in, none of which I'm going to spoil for you. Except, I will own up to the fact that the girl assassins terrified me. We're talking actual nightmares. *Shudder*.

 

For me, Maier doesn't have enough in terms of character to make me want to read any further into the series. When I think of him, the first thing I think is "Vodka Orange", and the second is "History lesson". Neither really worked for me, and nor did the book as a whole. As I mentioned above though, if travel and history are your bag you'll find plenty to enjoy here.  It just wasn't for me.

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review 2013-05-21 00:00
Cambodian Book of the Dead - Tom Vater Cambodian Book of the Dead - Tom Vater Maier, a German reporter-turned-detective goes to Cambodia to find the heir to a coffee fortune. Maier's quest gets him entangled with a beautiful woman who's lovers inevitably die horribly, a Khmer Rouge general, and a Nazi war criminal called the White Spider. Will Maier return from the killing fields or die trying?

First, the official business. I got this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for reviewing it.

This book and I did not really get along. It's supposed to be a thriller but aside from a man being torn apart by a tiger shark, there aren't many thrilling bits in the first 50% of the book. The story started taking off after that but by then, I had already soured on it.

The book felt to me like Tom Vater has a great fascination with Cambodian history and culture. While that's fine, some of it felt really out of place in a thriller and slowed the story down considerably. By the time things picked up, I was ready for bad things to happen to Maier.

Speaking of bad things, the second half of the book salvaged things a bit as Maier had people gunning for him and wound up drugged a couple times. Another thing this book had going for it was the characters. While I didn't think Maier was anything special, I loved Clarissa, and thought Les, Pete, and Kaley were multifaceted characters and very nicely done. I also loved the little girl assassins. The White Spider's background was also really good.

Two stars. It was okay but the pace in the first half killed it for me.

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