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What I'm reading now: If the Dead Rise Not (Bernie Gunther Novels) by Phillip Kerr

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Living Room of the Dead

I recently joined the website Crimespace which opened me up to a whole new slew of crime and mystery authors. That’s how I discovered Eric Stone, whose first novel Living Room of the Dead (Ray Sharp Novels) sounded enticing with its exotic locals of Hong Kong, Macau, and Russia. The book is the first in a series of mysteries revolving around Ray Sharp, journalist for a Hong Kong based business magazine and weekend dabbler in the local Macau market of massage parlors and female companionship. One unfortunate weekend he bumps into an unlikable co-worker who confides that his brother has fallen for a Russian prostitute and wants to buy out her contract from the local Russian mobsters, then asks if Ray can find out if this is a good idea or not. Against his better judgment Ray asks his “girlfriend” Irina, an independent prostitute living in Jakarta after a stint in Macau, if she knows anyone he can talk to, she mentions her friend Sasha, whom Ray contacts, and thus begins this story delving into the Russian underworld in Asia. Despite warnings, Ray begins to poke around and meets a dubious cast of characters, from strung- out prostitutes in an underground pool house to a “nice” pimp who refers to his girls as stupid whores to a beefy Russian femme bodyguard, all the while getting himself into deeper and deeper water (literally).

What I liked about this book were the wonderful descriptions of the places and people. Mr. Stone has a keen eye, the book is peppered with imagery you won’t forget, though the grisly stuff you might wish you could. That said, the book didn’t engage me at first, there was a lot of fluff building up the friendship blossoming between Ray and Sasha. And I didn’t buy the premise that Ray wanted to continue poking around the underworld for a co-worker he doesn’t even like. Once Sasha went missing however, things got interesting. After that I was definitely absorbed in the story, wanting to see where the next part of Sasha’s trail might lead. The story doesn’t disappoint if you like the gruesome, if you suspected that things in exotic Asian locations could get pretty crazy, you are right. I also liked the way the story wrapped up, without spoiling it the author didn’t cave into the happy ending, things go better than expected but there is still tragedy, and the recap of all the players and what happened to them at the end was nice touch.

What I didn’t like about the book was that most of the female characters are hookers and the few that aren’t are poorly developed. I took away from it that a man can’t travel in Asia and Russia without being solicited for sex at least several times a day, and that partaking in their services is completely commonplace, like going to a movie here the U.S. Not having been to any of places described, this may very well be the case, but for female readers, it’s sort of disappointing to know how little respect is paid to women throughout the world. Ray Sharp himself gets into the game, the way he looks at women is chauvinistic even though he spends most of the book trying to help a number of females. This criticism is obviously coming from a female perspective, these things probably won’t bother male readers but the book definitely left a bad taste in my mouth about women’s place in the world.

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