The Risk of Infidelity Index: A Vincent Calvino Crime Novel, by Christopher G. Moore, Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2007, 324 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Bangkok-based detective-for-hire Vincent Calvino has found himself in a classic predicament: After coming through with a mountain of solid evidence for his American lawyer client, the lawyer dies under highly suspicious circumstances. Calvino wants his money; the dead attorney’s company won’t pay and, of course, won’t reveal to Calvino who its client was.

Before long, the hard-drinking, rough-and-tumble Yank private eye finds himself in one jam after another just to get paid for the initial job.

This work, the ninth in Canadian author Christopher G. Moore’s Calvino series, is, like its predecessors, festooned with memorable characters and a solid plot. Up to now, Moore has typically portrayed Thailand as a laid-back land where corruption is the natural order of things, to be tolerated in a laissez-faire manner, but this time he probes the country’s dark side to new depths.

Calvino works out of a grubby office located two floors above a “sensual massage” parlor, where one of the workers appears to have just committed suicide. Hours later, his lawyer client dies and soon Calvino, his loyal secretary Ratana and his guardian angel Pratchai, a colonel in the Thai police, find themselves matching wits with a ruthless Thai-Chinese business magnate whose family history is mysteriously linked to Calvino’s through a famous 1912 painting, and who is so politically connected he can manipulate eyewitness testimony and even get policemen to kill for him.

There’s plenty of corruption to go around, though, as the farangs (foreigners) have also been paid to look the other way while a conglomerate producing pirated pharmaceuticals and other contraband earns enormous profits. Calvino, framed for at least three murders, is forced into hiding. And if he wants to stay alive, he may have to flee Thailand for good.

All too many detective novels are watered down with long, irrelevant passages in which the protagonist argues with his or her paramour or discusses baseball games with cab drivers. “Infidelity” stays focused on crime and detection, in a tightly written narrative that’s packed with so many situations it gives the impression of a much longer book. Which makes it not only a satisfying read, but outstanding value for the money.

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