- Book: The Nineteen
- Location: Bangkok
- Author: Jake Needham
In the year 2000, terrorists gathered in Malaysia to plot a world changing event. Some returned to Afghanistan and some headed for Bangkok, where they disappeared into the thronging city. This is fiction based on true events. The CIA went on to lose track of them but Jake Needham’s character, Jack Shepherd, lecturer at Chula University, forms a more informal team to investigate where they might have gone and what their true nefarious purposes might be.
Lucas has come over from Washington and he is very much the newbie in town, and as a character he is a wonderful vehicle to ‘see’ the city through the fresh eyes of the author:
“Lucas heads into the city from the airport: The smell of Bangkok overhwhelmed him. A mix of automobile exhaust, jasmine blooms, burned grease, drifting incense, and raw sewage that was like no smell he had ever known before. It was an ode to life, raw and immediate, one that even the hot, heavy Bangkok air could never smother.”
As the team delves into the activities of these very scary people and their activities, the colourful and visceral feel of the city come to life once again in the capable hands of the author. Jake Needham is certainly ‘Mr Bangkok’ when it comes to novels. He has his characters heading to Sri Suan Phlu, a narrow road lined with shops, probably built before WW2 when Bangkok was more of a sleepy city. They have meetings in Madrid, a Patpong institution, which dates back to the late 1960s when there were American galore enjoying some R&R in the city; there is a quick trip to the MBK shopping centre and finally they descend briefly on Koh Samui.
The author builds in authentic Thai practices and the often laborious nature of getting things done – working out, even, how things function, and the ducking, diving and weaving that can be involved.
“In Thailand systemic venality is a given. You do not rise to any position of power without being part of that venality…”
At times the novel can almost feel like the narrative harks back to the era and writing of Michael Connelly and his generation – plenty of girls and action – and of course that is the nature of the city as we often perceive it.