You have just got to love a book that has an opening scene that takes you deep into the Vietnam jungle, right into the conflict and deep into the complicated politics of the war.
Or at least that's what it could have been like.
Some things are just never what they seem and Alby is now working as a still photographer whilst serving a suspension from the "day job" - photographer and spy with a covert Australian government department. He is never going to get on with the bureaucracy. The problem is that the movie he is working on is based on the life of a dead Australian hero. A soldier whose heroic acts during the Vietnam war were the stuff of legends - legends being told by people very close to Alby himself. The problem is that one of Alby's snaps could blow the legend apart.
If you've read any of my reviews of the 2 earlier books in this series (D-E-D Dead! and Sensitive New Age Spy), you'll know that these books are thrillers, liberally dusted with humour and fabulous food. DEAD AND KICKING follows on in that tradition, although I have to say, the food descriptions in this outing are enough to make you swoon with delight - Vietnamese food fans will be craving Pho to the core of their very being.
Part of the attraction of these books - aside from the way that they are funny, fast paced, and Alby is bruised not battered most of the way through, is the sense of place. That sense is provided partially from the brief glimpses of the surrounds, but mostly by the way that the action is immersed in the location - in the cafes, the restaurants, the roadside food stalls and the city streets and country roads. The food, the look and feel of a place is visual, dare I suggest written from a photographers point of view. At stages you'd swear you can smell the place. All of that is done with great skill though - the book doesn't read as a travelogue or get bogged down in long detailed descriptions.
The other part of the attraction is a tremendous character set - Alby is an Australian bloke - a spy, a photographer, an almost glamorous, bullet proof sort of a figure who can still manage fall flat on his rear end in front of a maximum number of witnesses. He's not exactly an all-hero figure though, he's more of a determined sort of a sod, who is not going to let go of something once he's got his teeth into it, even if he's chewing like hell. As you'd expect in this sort of book, there is a healthy sprinkling of glamorous women - most of whom are either dangerous or slightly mad; although in some cases definitely handy to know. Alby's supporting cast is beautifully eccentric, and more than once, there just in time to save the day.
DEAD AND KICKING is just the ticket for those long hot days of summer, a book to lie back and savour. Pick up a copy, have a seriously good laugh, barrack for the good guys, boo at the baddies, worry that the bloke is going to lose the girl (again) and dig out the directions to your closest Vietnamese restaurant.