In the early 90s, Maier was assigned as a war correspondent in Cambodia. He had witnessed the cruelty of its communist leader and his army — Polpot and the Khmer Rouge — to their own people. After the death of his Khmer friend from a bomb that was meant for him, he decided to end his career as a journalist. Now working as a private detective, Maier will return to the once war-weary land, disguised as an investor, to track down the heir of the Muller-Overbeck family — Rolf.
As his investigation progresses, he will learn that Rolf’s situation was tied with a woman named Kaley, famously known as the rebirth of Kangaok Meas. What made the situation more shady is their involvement with an ex-Khmer Rouge general, Tep. Maier will soon realize that the business he’s in is not simple as he initially thought. The town of Kep will soon be full of blood as he meets the Nazi War criminal known as the White Spider.
The Cambodian Book of the Dead is the first book in Detective Maier Mystery written by Tom Vater. This is my first time reading a book set in Cambodia and I could say that the plot is original. Tom Vater is undoubtfully knowledgeable in the country’s war history, its places, and culture. For me, incorporating history in a fictional work makes a story more engaging. I also like that there’s an element of mystery and romance.
The author interestingly included Cambodian belief in reincarnation and ghosts. One of the book’s essential characters, Kaley, was believed to be the rebirth of Kangaok Meas or the Golden Peacock — from an old Cambodian folk tale. But, hiding behind her exotic splendor are the unpleasant secrets of the past. She, in a way, symbolically represents the town of Kep. The town is surrounded with beautiful beaches and ruins, but, these resources were continually abused by the greedy businessmen. Same as how Tep, Kaley’s father-in-law, will use her hypnotizing beauty and their delusions for some dirty dealings. Her enigmatic character will be one of the readers’ motivations to turn the pages.
Several nationalities were introduced mainly German, Cambodian, American, French, Kiwi, British and Russian. Each has a story to tell on why they choose to settle in the country. Maier likes putting himself into dangerous missions. Though, I don’t think it’s just about the experience, it’s more about his sympathetic nature. Carissa Stevenson, a Phnom Penh foreign journalist slash Maier’s lover, will be a helpful instrument in finding his target. She’s smart and I like that she’s not easy to be intimidated by masculinity considering that she’s surrounded by men in a dangerous city. She and Maier have good chemistry though they both seem to dislike commitment in terms of romantic relationship. I also like Les LeRoux. You can tell that this person can be trusted the moment detective Maier talked to him. Rolf, the missing Hamburg’s coffee heir, appeared to be less significant in the story. With his parent’s money, I think he could do more to save Kaley. Mikhail’s identity was also another mystery.
I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars. I took away the 2 points because the story is kind of superstitious for my taste like Maier dreaming of Kaley even before he met her and Kaley manifesting mystical ability. Also, everything connected to Kaley, especially her past and all she had gone through, has become disquieting. Maier, being repeatedly drugged is kind of frustrating. The book contains profanity, violence, sexual content, and prostitution. That being said, it is not suited to younger readers and adults who might not like these subjects. This book is for anyone who appreciates action-packed historical fiction, mystery and for those who won’t mind bloody and savage killings.