When a man supposedly dead by suicide years earlier calls you at 2 am, it’s a safe bet your life is going to get very interesting. Considering the dead man calling you at 2 am died in a most un-“self-inflicted” fashion while auditing a bank used by Russian mobsters to launder money … well, your life is going to get very, very interesting.
Such is the opening for Laundry Man (A Jack Shepherd crime novel) by Jake Needham (@JakeNeedham), a thriller set mostly in Bangkok, a city that is “part Miami and part Beirut” where semi-retired Western gangsters and spies jostle elbows with government ministers and generals at the Polo Club and go-go bars. Thailand and especially Bangkok, as well as Hong Kong to a lesser extent, become supporting characters in this story much as Norway does for Jo Nesbo’s Inspector Harry Hole books.
As protagonist Jack Shepherd — who gave up a high-profile position in a Washington, DC law firm to teach at Chulalongkorn University — begins digging into why a supposedly dead man wants to meet him, the reader will meet a colorful cast including local cop Jello, ex-hit man and bar owner Mango Manny and Phony Frank, whose real occupation is…unclear.
The suspense constantly ratchets up as Jack bounces from lead to lead, many of which are red herrings. Something is going on — both Jack and the reader knows that much — but what exactly? How and where does Jack tie into it all? And why does everyone he meets tell Jack to stay out of it, even though their demeanor and actions indicate they don’t believe his claims of innocence?
With a title like Laundry Man you’d be right in thinking the story centers on “cleaning” ill-gotten money, but fortunately the techno-speak of international banking doesn’t get too detailed. I say “fortunately” because I’ve never much understood or been interested in high finance in general. In fact, Mr. Needham addresses my feelings, and has given me a new way to view international finance in the future:
Why was it that so many Americans look at offshore banking as some sort of occult wizardry? I had a sudden vision of huge airplanes stuffed with microchip importers from San Francisco whizzing endlessly around the globe in search of a fabled and mystical land called Offshore, a place forever beyond the reach of greedy governments, combative creditors, and vengeful ex-wives. I myself have always pictured Offshore as a land ruled by Peter Sellers, but now that he was dead, I imagine that Rowan Atkinson must have taken over the throne.
— Needham, Jake (2011-12-01). LAUNDRY MAN (A Jack Shepherd crime novel) (Kindle Locations 1225-1230). Half Penny Ltd (Hong Kong). Kindle Edition.
Exotic locations, colorful characters and a puzzle as murky as one of the Chao Phraya River’s tributaries…what’s not to like about that? I enjoyed this story quite a bit, and will be adding to my To Read List both more Jack Shepherd books and Mr. Needham’s Inspector Tay series.