13 October 2014

Lost Innocence: The Accused by Simon Palmer

I am always somewhat reluctant to review the first part of an intended series of books. Just as the story is incomplete, so must the review be incomplete and provisional. It is difficult to comment on the merits of a plot which is unfinished. This is the case here.

Lost Innocence is the first part of an adventure thriller set in Bangkok, Thailand. Michael is a young, budding artist, who travels to Thailand to sketch the working girls of Bangkok, before commencing studies at an art school in London. Before long he finds himself in trouble. He is arrested on trumped up charges for having raped and beaten an underage girl, and thrown into the notorious Bangkok ‘Hilton’. He is given the option to pay a substantial fine and be released, or remain in prison to fight the charges. He decides, on principle, to fight the charges. While in prison he befriends a convicted drug smuggler, John, who shows him the ropes.

Michael’s arrest precipitates a rescue mission, first by his father, Stan, and then by his grandfather, Nigel, a prominent and wealthy lawyer. Finally, a private detective, Harvey Goulding, is hired to help unravel the mess. Along with the intrigue and machinations as the drama unfolds, the author sketches the complex and not entirely harmonious relationships between the three generations of men.

Palmer does an excellent job of taking the reader inside the Thai prison and legal system. He also provides a convincing account of the Bangkok sex industry. The story is interesting, although I was never quite convinced by Michael’s determination to fight the charges rather than pay the fine, given the horrific conditions to which he is subjected. Neither his motivation—a rather vague sense of principle—nor his strength of character seemed to warrant this. The generational interactions are potentially interesting, but we are not given sufficient back story to understand the strained relationships, particularly between the father and grandfather. Neither of these men was particularly likeable. Their wives, left behind in England, play only a minor role and, again, we are not given enough background to understand these relationships. There are moments when the story morphs—perhaps not surprisingly, given the setting—into a kind of soft porn, which is well written if a little predictable.

The author makes the unwise decision to narrate Michael’s part of the narrative in the first person, and the rest from various third person points of view. The choice is strange because, after the early chapters, Michael plays very little part in the story. Locked up in prison, the capacity of this character to move the story along is very limited. It is true that Michael’s personal account of his arrest and his time in prison is very vivid, but I think this could have been achieved just as effectively with an intimate, third person narrative.

The introduction of the private detective into the story provides a lift, but comes rather late in the narrative. His Thai female assistant, Bo, is probably one of the most interesting characters, and certainly the only female character to be given more than a bit role.

There are times when the grammar, and particularly the punctuation, are rather poor here. And there is a moment that made me cringe when we are presented with a dreadful, caricatured German accent.

This is not a bad start to the series. I think it would have been reasonable in this first volume to expect more back story, particularly concerning the father and grandfather, which would have leant more credibility to the conflicts between them. It will be interesting to see where the author takes this in future. I give it three and a half stars, rounding it down to three where necessary.