‘The spirits of the dead are all around us, but it is we, the living, that are the true hungry ghosts.’ I could not agree more with the reflections of David Braddock, the detective-cum-philosopher and therapist who is the protagonist of Hungry Ghosts, the second book in the ‘Time, Karma and Blood Series’ by John Dolan. I read the first book in the series Everyone Burns and when I reviewed it I mentioned that I thought this would be a five star series but the first book left me wanting more and with too many questions pending. Be reassured, Hungry Ghosts delivers on all the promises of the first and more, and although, of course this being a series everything could be resolved, it answers many of the questions, whilst opening new avenues for enquiry and intriguing plots.
‘Sometimes I come across as superficial. Of this I am aware. However, you may be confident that inside my head I am forever plumbing new shallows, finding novel ways to express the obvious, reheating old jokes.’
David Braddock, one of the most peculiar detectives I’ve met in fiction (and I am aware all famous detectives have quirks and characteristics that make them memorable) is back with a vengeance. Or rather, he is the intended victim of a revenge attempt. Vending the rules, although it appears to be the standard MO in Thailand, does not come without consequences, even there. People die, lives are destroyed, and strange alliances are made and broken. Not your standard day at the office.
If Braddock still retains many of the characteristics we’ve come to expect of most males detectives (he has an array of love interests, two of them married, one related to him by first marriage…), we get to see more of his soft/emotional side. His strange relationships with his first wife (now dead), his daughter (away in England), his housekeeper (not his maid, as he insists throughout the whole book. She is clearly much more than a housekeeper, as signalled by the fact that they have never had sex), his mother-in-law, and crucially, his father. Family secrets abound, not only those of the Braddock family, but also of other families. Fathers and sons with troubled relationships are mirrored on both sides of the law (although the lines are very fine and there is no black and white here, rather different shades of grey), and even Braddock’s Zen master, the Old Monk, has sons who are on opposite sides of the law.
The author shows his talent by using a variety of points of view throughout the novel that allow us to understand better the events and the motivations behind the actions of the characters. We share in the murderer’s frame of mind, the Chief of Police of Samui and his wife (and Braddock’s lover), the detective’s sister in law, the gangsters… We might side with Braddock but we are privy to the thoughts and feelings of others and are a step ahead. That is why the twist at the end is even more effective. We should have seen it coming but we were too taken by the action and the story, and rooting for the flawed hero to realise that…
John Dolan treads carefully and manages to recap enough information to allow somebody who has not read the first novel to enjoy and make sense of this one, whilst at the same time not boring somebody who has recently read ‘Everyone Burns’, and just nudging their memory (especially with the unfamiliar names) along.
David Braddock is fast becoming one of my favourite detectives. Although an amateur at both detective work and psychology (or therapeutic interventions), he has a natural flair for both. I couldn’t help but think that he might make an interesting team with Mary, the psychiatrist who gets involved in all sorts of crimes in my stories. It’s a thought.
Hungry Ghosts has gang-warfare, police corruption, revenge, murders and violence, secrets and revelations, honey traps and meddling employees, witty repartees and reflections (‘I need to simplify my life so far as women are concerned. Maybe I should get castrated and have done with it.’), ghosts and padrinos (Thai style). I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next and what will come of the sudden epiphany Braddock experiences in this book. As he observes: ‘We are the artisans of avoidance, the fabricators of falsehoods. We sell ourselves snake-oil and we call it medicine.’ I’m sure there will be more revelations to come and I suspect the author might take us in unsuspected directions. I am getting a ticket for the next trip. Are you?