by Nicholas Seeley
Phnom Penh, Cambodia: the end of the line. Lawless, drug-soaked, forgotten—it’s where bad journalists go to die. For once-great war photographer Will Keller, that’s kind of a mission statement: he spends his days floating from one score to the next, taking any job that pays; his nights are a haze of sex, drugs, booze, and brawling. But Will’s spiral toward oblivion is interrupted by Kara Saito, a beautiful young woman who shows up and begs Will to help find her sister, June, who disappeared during a stint as an intern at the local paper.
Cambo offers a hundred kinds of trouble that June could have got mixed up in. The Phnom Penh underworld is in an uproar after a huge drug bust; a local reporter has been murdered in a political hit; and the government and opposition are locked in a standoff that could throw the country into chaos at any moment. But June came with secrets and terrors of her own. Cambodia is not the only place she’s traveled, or the worst, and the more Will learns about her past, the more danger they both are in. . .
Propulsive, electric, and filled with unforgettable characters, Cambodia Noir marks the arrival of a fresh new talent. Nick Seeley’s debut novel is a powerful and unsettling exploration of loss, and being lost, and what happens when we go too far into the dark.
2.5 of 5 Stars
I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about this book. Not far into the book, I got the distinct impression that much of the mystery and crime involved was directly related to the prevalent drug use not just by the protagonist but by every single character. Even those that were hinted at as ‘conservative’ in this area, drank heavily and still used substances to some degree. I could see how this meshed itself in with the story and wouldn’t be surprised if it was to some degree fairly accurate to the area. I don’t know much at all about the general culture of Cambodia to say if this kind of thing is normal or not. That said, it often turned me off from the story. I found a lot of Will’s behavior to be disturbing.
I found a lot of Will’s behavior to be disturbing. Like most people with active, ongoing addiction he came across as selfish, self-absorbed, lacking clarity, and often seemed like he was walking around in a fog. The story portrays his pain incredibly well and I felt for him on more than on occasion. I can’t imagine going through some of the events he’s managed to survive. What I craved was some kind of redemption for him that would break him out of his drugged haze and back into a real life. I was always hopeful that his search for June would be this ticket out of a destructive lifestyle that would surely lead to his death and possibly the death of those around him. I never really felt I got that. This isn’t to say that Will doesn’t grow and expand as a character through the book because I do think he makes progress. He reaches out to others even when it isn’t easy to do. I still found myself wanting more.
I probably would have rated this book a bit higher had I liked the ending more. I was enjoying the journey of finding June and trying to figure things out even though it was a little weird. I even grew to become less sensitive to the drug use. The ending however still doesn’t really make sense to me and I’ve re-read parts of it to see if I could walk away with something other than a “Wait.. what??” feeling. To me, it wasn’t a clean ending though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t always mind that I walk away from a book with more questions than answers. Sometimes I genuinely appreciate that because it promotes discussion. I’m still on the fence with this book. I do recommend it if you are interested in mystery and don’t mind both graphic violence and reference to drug use. On another note, the book has me much more interested in the history of Cambodia – something I do plan on checking out in the future.
Big thanks to Scribner, the publisher, for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.