A heart of darkness beats in all of us, from the social isolate to the psychopath. Most of the time, people play by the rules and mores of their societies, because it is convenient and easy to meet their desires. Their Karmas, momentary behaviors and intentions that make their futures predictable, are in line with the expectations and freedoms of others. When a cultural revolution is engineered by a dominant personality or cult, behavior becomes modified, more focused. Even when that revolution has evolved into a stable government, all the players become in the words of Lawrence Osborne, Hunters in the Dark.
Thirty year old British teacher on summer leave, Robert Grieve, visits Southeast Asia on a cheap holiday and crosses over the border of Thailand into Cambodia, a land with a legacy of a genocidal cultural revolution. Loosely attached to his British lifestyle, naive Robert “goes native” in the land of sweltering heat, daily rain, and citizens who seem dismissive their own free will. Their Karma is fatalistic, fearful, and impulsive as if their span of consciousness has been shortened and there may be no tomorrow.
An American expatriate living in Cambodia causes Robert to make what seem to be reasonable choices that lead him to cut many of his ties with his British heritage. Forced by circumstances to survive in the moment, Robert meets native Cambodians from upper and lower strata of the tropical country. Robert’s experience teaching in Great Britain benefits him to some extent, but his ignorance of Asian life makes him vulnerable to people whose Karma is affected by a legacy of Cambodian “killing fields.”
The fast-paced story is a complex study of contemporary West/East cultural interaction that is reminiscent of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Robert is an Englishman, however, who does not have the benefit of a Raj and must learn to find new ways to adapt to the ways of an alien society. This is a very good novel by the author of two previous novels, The Forgiven and The Ballad of a Small Player.