Review of Chasing the Dragon by Mark Wightman
Review of Chasing the Dragon by Mark Wightman
I’ve never wanted my blog to be part of a blog tour before. But when I heard that Mark Wightman had written a sequel to Waking the Tiger, I got in touch with Hobeck Books and asked to take part.
It was a good move as the new book turned out to be a wonderful read.
Here, then, is my review of Chasing the Dragon by Mark Wightman for the blog tour:
A fisherman makes a gruesome discovery when a rogue net becomes tangled on the leg of his kelong, his offshore fishing platform. The catch is the decomposing body of a white man.
Inspector Max Betancourt of the Marine Police is called in to sign off the case as a drowning, but Betancourt isn’t the kind of investigator to let things through on the nod, nor is Dr Evelyn Trevose, the police surgeon, who discovers a surprising cause of death.
We accompany Betancourt as he follows a trail of leads to identify the man and then to work out the how, why and whodunit of his murder.
At its heart, this novel is a police procedural, but it stands out from the crowd for many reasons, not least the rollcall of unique characters.
Betancourt has dealings with opium-addicted rickshaw drivers, opportunistic hoteliers, expert tailors, snooty archaeologists and licensed opium den proprietors; meets resistance from British Army top brass, the American consul and the Assistant Commissioner of Police; and relies on his own network of unlikely contacts, who include a racehorse trainer, a senior banker, a retired tin mine owner and a customs superintendent.
Betancourt himself is an engaging protagonist with a fascinating background. (I won’t say more as part of the treat for readers is discovering Betancourt for themselves.) His backstory – which occupied much of the first novel in the series – is given a lighter touch in the sequel, although there are brief recaps for previous readers and also enough to hook newcomers.
The focus this time around is on the investigation and this lends itself to a brisker pace. I very much enjoyed Waking the Tiger, Betancourt’s first outing (see my review here), but with its attention on the central mystery, Chasing the Dragon is even better and set to be one of my top reads of the year.
What makes the novel a winner is its sense of time and place. Readers find themselves in the Singapore of 1940, a melting pot of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Europeans, where the British, and increasingly the Americans, assume their divine right to be the hand that stirs the cauldron.
The writer makes outstanding use of all five senses to describe his vibrant setting. We see the dense, pillar-like roots of an ancient banyan tree, hear the babble of activity at the docks, touch the thick dust that coats the urban streets, smell the cloying sweetness of an opium den, and taste delicious local food such as “sliced cabbage slathered in oyster sauce and sesame oil”. (My mouth is watering just reading that.)
Particularly skilful is the seasoning with italicised words in local languages. They add to the evocation of place and time, with meanings made clear in context and without the need for translation or lengthy explanation (although there is also a glossary at the end of the novel).
Sometimes humorous (jokes are often at the expense of Betancourt’s earnest but conscientious junior colleague, Quek); occasionally romantic (a nice will-they-won’t-they thread runs through Betancourt’s relationship with Evelyn); and often informative (despite providing the reader with a significant amount of history, it never feels like an information dump), the writing is mostly a sumptuous mix of the languorous and the explosive.
I highly recommend Chasing the Dragon.
Information from the publisher:
Chasing the Dragon by Mark Wightman
A local fisherman finds the body of a missing American archaeologist
Detective Inspector Betancourt of the Singapore Marine Police is first on the scene. Something doesn’t quite add up. He finds out that the architect, Richard Fulbright, was close to deciphering the previously-untranslatable script on a pre-colonial relic known as the Singapore Stone. This was no accidental drowning.
Is there more to this case than archaeological rivalries?
Betancourt also discovers that Fulbright had been having an affair. He is sure he is onto something bigger than just academic infighting.
A government opium factory draws criminal interest
In his investigations into the death, Betancourt finds that his own life in danger, and now he has also put himself on the wrong side of British Military Intelligence, and he is unsure which set of opponents he fears the most…
Genre: Historical Crime
Publisher: Hobeck Books
Date: 12 September 2023
Ebook from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0CFG7ZPX7
Paperback from Amazon: Chasing the Dragon: 2 (Betancourt Mysteries): Amazon.co.uk: Wightman, Mark: 9781915817181: Books
Paperback direct from Hobeck Books: https://www.hobeck.net/product-page/chasing-the-dragon-by-mark-wightman
About the Author
Mark Wightman was born in Edinburgh before growing up in the Far East, in Hong Kong and Singapore. Mark is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA course. Mark’s first novel, Waking the Tiger, was published by Hobeck Books in 2021. Chasing the Dragon is Mark’s second novel.