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The Scoreless Thai

Lawrence Block


Harper, 2007

Review by Peter Young in The Thai Literary Supplement #7 (December 2016).

Block’s ‘Evan Tanner’ series of novels focuses on the adventures of an American spy – for want of a more accurate word – who had the sleep centre of his brain put out by a piece of shrapnel in the Korean War. Unable to sleep, he’s had an extra eight hours every day with which to improve himself, learn a dozen languages and get into assorted scrapes on behalf of the American government, not dissimilar from those of a certain better-known British spy. Here, he hooks up with a Kenyan jazz singer in New York, who tours Southeast Asia with her band only to get caught up in a jewel heist in Bangkok then disappear. Tanner decides to investigate, and not entirely for selfless reasons because he’s also rather attracted to the shiny, sparkling stuff as well.

This is not what I’d call an ‘embedded’ novel. It’s a little too apparent that Block’s familiarity with Southeast Asia was at that time a little too casual – from Thailand the story progresses to Laos where the communists are screwing with the country and its neighbours, and over to the east there’s also a serious North/South altercation going on in Vietnam. Specifics are lacking and blurred generalisations tend to hold sway, such that it feels a little too readily like casual fiction knocked off on a typewriter on the other side of the world. But despite the easy nature of the plotting Block clearly knows how to entertain: his pacing is pretty good and his dialogue is better, but I didn’t quite get enough of the world-view of a sleepless man growing weary of his fellow human beings – I’d need to read a few more Tanner novels to get that bigger picture.