“A detective should have facts, but sometimes, you just had to dance to the song playing on the jukebox, work the instinct routine, wherever it takes you.”
James Newman is cutting his anchors and leaving the shore. He probably sails under a black flag and his destination is rather undefined. He’s not concerned with heaven or hell, though both feature prominently in Fun City Punch, the most far out and radical in his Joe Dylan series.
Newman started off writing about Bangkok/Pattaya’s dirty underbelly and conjured up a great line-up of demented reprobates who inhabit the night of one of the sleaziest, most lawless parts of the world that isn’t in an actual state of war. But times have changed since the publication of his earlier novels. Fun City is no longer much fun.
As Thailand moves towards becoming a tropical North Korea where people disappear or get thrown in jail for spurious reasons with increasing frequency, its leftfield chronicler is leaving his demi-monde roots behind and is moving into heavier, darker and richer territory. The writing is more assured, the plot is more disjointed, the characters are more desperate and the journey is more uncertain.
In his fifth Joe Dylan outing, the story’s location morphs into a kind of Beat netherworld, a dystopian universe where contrary citizens are hauled in for attitude adjustment sessions by a faceless, brutal government, a fantastical reality deeply embedded in a sense of literary despair.
His protagonist Joe Dylan is a victim of state power but he is also a player, a lone wolf, an investigator who works on reflexes in a world in which investigations no longer really matter. His motor will keep on running until it can run no more.
But none of this is really important. The power of Fun City Punch lies in the details, the rich language, the torrid corridors of verbal fireworks that lead into post-modern echo chambers crammed with the screams of a thousand and one wasted human narratives. This is where Newman shines like a dead star from another galaxy – his descriptions of the mad world he created are so cunning that they propel us back into our own desperate and crazy realities. Trump may become president. In Newman’s world, we suspect, someone like Trump already has the top job and is pissing on all of us.
““Follow me inside,” Newman writes, “I think you will find it more comfortable out of this sun.”