Nick Macfie. (2011). Hadley. Hong Kong: Earnshaw Books.

Nick Macfie is a veteran writer and editor with plenty of experience, like his central character, of the sometimes seedy world of the Hong Kong hack.

The main character of this novel, Hadley Arnold, is an English journalist who works for a news agency in Hong Kong, has a nice line in self-deprecatory humour and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies. He is one of those hapless antiheroes who wander through a plot which is as much of a puzzle to them as it is to the reader. There are several set-piece scenes of what we might call expatriate farce, some satirical, some bordering on the surreal. Often the dialogue is funny. And although there are moments of nastiness and violence, this is a good-humoured book, fond of its characters, none of whom gets seriously hurt in the end.

Hadley, a journalist making a living writing up other people’s news stories at the Shrubs News Agency, is just recovering from a hangover – do you know any novel about journalists that doesn’t have a hangover description? – when two people from his past turn up in Hong Kong. One is the appalling Chris Torment, a fabulously vain and untalented movie actor, who has come to star in a film called I Love Hong Kong, directed by Adolf Lee and co-starring the delectable Panda Koo. The other is a mystery American whose name may be Joe Stein. Joe is apparently very rich and powerful. He has a habit of materializing as if by magic in unexpected places and manipulating the lives of all around him, including Torment and Hadley.

Joe’s scheming, and Hadley’s inability to figure out what’s going on, form the essence of the plot. Though Hadley has disliked Torment since school, he rescues him from an attempted assassination at the hands of a group improbably called the Democratic Association for the Liberation of Jaffna Chinese. Torment repays this kindness by stealing Hadley’s girlfriend. Later, Hadley and Torment go to Sri Lanka and risk getting caught up in the separatist insurgency. The appearance of a number of interestingly pale foreigners on the beach is explained when they discover there is a Robert Pattinson lookalike competition at a neighbouring hotel.

I should add the word “apparently” to all the sentences above. The manipulative hand of Joe is suspected in several of these apparent events. Do they belong to the real world of news or the contrived world of the movies? And is Joe out to stop Torment being chosen as the next James Bond, or is he out to prepare him for the role? Some kind of drama is playing out. Is Hadley a reporter, or an unwitting player?

There is a gorgeous Filipina bargirl. There is a gorgeous Korean mystery woman. Of course there is Panda Koo, gorgeous too, if a bit robotic. There are beaches, newsrooms, assorted bars, more hangovers, and plenty of hokum. Welcome to South-East Asia, of a sort.

There is plenty to enjoy in this novel, but there is bad news too. The under-edited narrative is so confusing and full of loose ends that there is a danger that some readers will cease to care what Joe is up to before the end is reached. Joe is, I suspect, a less intriguing character than his creator finds him. While some of the dialogue is funny, other bits intended to raise a laugh have the buoyancy of concrete. (DK)



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