Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Review: The 38 Million Dollar Smile, a Donald Strachey Mystery by Richard Stevenson

When the heir to a steel fortune vanishes in Thailand with 38 million dollars, private eye Donald Strachey and his lover, Tim, are hired to find the missing person. At first the job seems like a dream come true – more like a much-needed vacation in an exotic location rather than a job – but trying to piece together a puzzle while dealing with an unfamiliar culture and an alarmingly corrupt criminal justice system proves to be both costly and dangerous. Donald is forced to rely on the help of Bangkok private eye, Rufus Pugh, who guides Strachey through the maze of sights, politics, religion, customs, and pleasures unique to Thailand.
They do, of course, eventually find the missing heir, but find themselves neck deep in a totally different and much more dangerous situation. Strachey has to use all his considerable wit to figure a way to keep himself, his lover, and his client out of harms way.

This is the first Donald Starchey mystery that I have read, and even though I am not a fan of mystery novels, I came to this book with high expectations, having heard much praise of previous Richard Stevenson books. I must say that I walked away from this story with mixed feelings.

One the positive side, the story is fast paced and interesting. It has enough twists and turns to keep one guessing, which makes it a page-turner. Also, it’s clear the author did his homework on Thai culture, and gives accurate details of Thai customs and of Bangkok street-life. I’ve lived almost two years in Thailand, and I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of Bangkok and Thai society. And surprisingly, the main characters in this story have emotional arches (they grow from their experiences), which is all too often missing in mystery novels that I’ve read.

On the not so positive side, the plot twists were fun, but too far-fetched to be believable, ending in a situation that for this reader was unsatisfying. There was a huge buildup, and then I felt it fizzled, as if the author was in a hurry to wrap things up, or worse, not sure of how to end it. Also, I felt that there were several key plot elements that were blatantly obvious, telling where the story was heading. I wanted to be surprised at then end, but that didn’t happen.

Still, it was an enjoyable read, even for a reader who seldom likes mysteries. Stevenson fans will no doubt enjoy the trademark plot intricacies, unique characters and lush descriptions of Thai culture. Indeed, I can recommend this book without hesitation.


Anonymous said...

Brim over I agree but I dream the post should secure more info then it has.

AlanChinWriter said...

I'm one of those people who don't like reviews to drag on and on giving too much of the plot away. Brevity can be beautiful.

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