David Baird. (2011). Typhoon Season. Frigiliana, (Málaga) Spain: Maroma Press.

There is a distinctly retro feeling to this novel, and not just because most of the action takes place in Hong Kong in 1980, a far-off time when – though this is hard to believe – we all got by without mobile phones, party politics, and shopping malls.

What did we do all day? If this book is to be believed, life in Hong Kong in 1980 was lived at breakneck speed. This is a tightly constructed thriller that moves along at a cracking pace, one of those stories in which the hero gets threatened by the bad guys, arrested by the cops, consoled by the girlfriend, bamboozled by the mystery of the missing corpse, knocked unconscious, shot at and almost drowned, with barely time in between to change his shirt.

Typhoon Season is a very good example of genre fiction. It could be a set book for a course on the Hong Kong Thriller.

David Baird has cooked it up from a pretty complete set of the classic ingredients. The body fished out of the harbour, its face unrecognizable. The execution in Bangkok. The hapless American journalist who asks too many questions. His Chinese girlfriend, an innocent caught up in a game she doesn’t understand. The crooked lawyer, and his unhappy drunken expatriate wife. The intrepid ICAC man. The sinister tycoon and his murdered mistress. The rogue cop. The Cantonese martial-arts movie star with triad connections (surely not?). The cynical CIA operative, involved in drug trafficking between Hong Kong and Thailand. Stew these together, and stir in a cocktail party in a mansion on the Peak, a massage parlour, the Pink Heaven Bar, a luxury cruiser, the taipan’s country villa, the Buddhist temple with its unworldly monk, the escape, the high-speed chase, the explosion. All this taking place, inevitably, in the typhoon season.

On the face of it, Typhoon Season looks as if it might have been assembled from the kit, like a piece of Ikea furniture. But in spite of its absolutely fearless deployment of these stock properties of the genre, it is nonetheless a good book, and an enjoyable read. This is because David Baird knows what he is doing.

First, he has the gift of storytelling. The plot may seem a bit familiar, but it is well crafted, fits together snugly, holds the interest, and is exceptionally well paced. We are given enough credible information to allow the characters to stand on their own feet, but not so much as to slow down the story. Dialogue is an area where thrillers often come to grief, but Baird has a good ear for speech: his dialogue is excellent. There is just the occasional oriental hokum – I’m afraid there is a mystery key inscribed with the words “Reap harvest where lotus blooms” – but for most of the time the book resists the temptation of the exotic, and the Hong Kong scene is set credibly, if a bit nostalgically.

Typhoon Season is an enjoyable example of the genre. The only place it really puts a foot wrong is in the Postscript, in which the characters from 1980 are brought up to date, to meet again in the year 2010. Here the novel finally succumbs to a tearjerking cliché of Puccini proportions. But if you stop reading before the last couple of pages, this is a pretty good book. (DK)


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