Review - Bangkok Belle, Ron McMillan
Author Ron McMillan is a Scottish born and bred lad, who has spent many years in Asia as a photo journalist, and that "eye" shows in BANGKOK BELLE and the earlier book BANGKOK COWBOY. It's not going to be absolutely essential for you to read both books in order, but as is always the way with strong character based novels, it does work really well if you've been fortunate to get them in order.
There is something visual about both the settings and the characters employed in these novels, as well as a deep understanding of the nuances of Thai Culture. When it comes to a PI pairing, everything about Mason and Dixie feels real. Mason, ex British Army, the strong man of the duo, silent and ever so slightly lethal. Dixie on the other hand is anything but silent, she's loud, proud and as real as you can get. She's the guide to the cultural ramifications and requirements, and the instigator of much action. She's also no slouch in the martial arts department herself, and don't for a moment think that this is somehow an uneven partnership or one of protector and protected. These two are equal partners in every possible way.
One of the great joys of reading these novels has been the feeling of authenticity of each and every character, every scenario and every location. Whether it's that eye that is seeing things in depth, or whether it's a very good understanding of the workings of Thai culture from experience, whatever it is feeding the narrative, McMillan is able to get it down on paper in a way that's engaging and informative, paced and clever, with lashings of humour into the bargain.
There's also nothing straight forward about any of these plots and BANGKOK BELLE manages to combine a missing colleague who was investigating another disappearance, police corruption and transgender Beauty Pageant shenanigans; with a crazy night club owner, a psychotic ex-IRA hit man, and an aging American mobster working for the Macau mafia.
Not your normal plot elements then, nor are Mason & Dixie exactly your normal PI duo. What you can expect is clever writing and plotting, great characters, pitch perfect dialogue, some stand out scene setting, laughter, action, pathos, friendship, a bit of romance and a heap of enjoyable madness.
Bangkok private eye duo Mason & Dixie are hired to provide protection to Australian soap opera star Belle Cooper, who came under vicious attack from the moment she announced her participation in a Bangkok pageant.
British Army veteran Mason and his transgender business partner Dixie already have their hands full with the disappearance of their colleague. Aom went missing while keeping watch on a night club owner called Chocolate, who is suspected of murdering her British husband, Robert Collingwood.
Mason & Dixie have to keep Belle safe while juggling threats posed by the corrupt police colonel who swept the Collingwood investigation under the carpet, the psychotic ex-IRA hit man who is Chocolate’s new boyfriend, and an ageing New Jersey mobster working for the Macau mafia.
Showdowns at an exclusive inner city resort and an abandoned fruit farm on the outskirts of the Thai capital take this fast-moving thriller to an explosive conclusion.
Full disclosure - Ron McMillan has been a great friend since the mid 80s, but ... I know good writing and great stories, and he delivers the goods. I won't say anything about Bangkok Belle other than to agree with Karen, Austcrime's reviewer - every word of it. I would say that if you, dear reader, have a go at either of the Mason & Dixie titles and like them, don't sit around moaning and waiting for M&D 3, check out Yin Yang Tattoo. And I know I shouldn't say this, certainly not on this site, and I might get disinvited to his daughter's wedding, but I LIKE HIS NON-FICTION EVEN BETTER. Between Weathers is the best travel book that I've read in years. Now if he'd only get off his Pictish duff and FINISH THE NEXT ONE, I'd sing at the wedding (if I'm still invited).