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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday 31 December 2008

Devil's Place by Brian Gomez

January 1, 2009

by Suzan Abrams
in Dublin

Book Review: Malaysia - Thriller (Black Comedy)

Malaysia: What fantastic chutzpah coming from Malaysia's talented journalist/writer, Brian Gomez! Gomez recently announced the courageous debut of his slapstick thriller, titled Devil's Place! (Idle Minds, 347 pages). He has since hinted of an equally tantalising sequel.

Read this fat packed series of colourful jocular happenings comprising bent coppers, amateur terrorists, a doomed love affair, a mini dictionary of George Bush jokes and innocent heroes caught up in a crazy run of madcap hilarity from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand while swinging a bag stuffed with US$18 million received through unfortunate circumstances, and you've got the ready start to the New Year. At least, you'll ring it in, laughing till your sides ache bad. The trick is after all, to decide who gets the get-rich-quick bag at long last.

I finished the 350-page black comedy in just two sittings yesterday. I was held riveted to my seat, caught up by a terrible muffle of the giggles although none of the plot's clumsy and merciless characters thought to do me in with a gun to my head. I daresay, with their ludicrous attempts, a fictitious thug would have only held his slick pistol the wrong way round.

Gomez is a natural stand-up comic whose dramatic racy prose rockets with highly entertaining antics from start to finish . Cheeky and comical in a savage way, this brilliant book which celebrates the polished mastery of the English Language to reveal a slyly telling and humorous Malaysiana; would appeal on a universal scale while armed with its priceless political and social innuendos. This humdinger of a plot would sell like a dream too on an international scale. Hopefully, there will be wider publicity and distribution opportunities.

Devil's Place reveals the flipside to Malaysia's supposed commonplace idiosyncrasies that displaces itself from the ordinary and still lives to tell. The novel also stays topical with a relevant global slant as the subject of terrorism is brought into play and innocent characters pursue escape.

The plot starts in a seedy pub called The Hideout where a waggish drunk of a reporter Joe Maniam, makes a spectacle of himself and receives the wrath of its notorious owner, Pak Jam . Jam spots a secret heart of gold and is one of struggling guitarist's Terry Fernandez's best friends. Terry's childhood friends whisk him off to a stag party where they hire a Thai prostitute for the night. Terry is to marry a Muslim minister's spoilt cantankerous daughter, Linda. The Minister is dodgy and ambitious. Meanwhile, the Thai prostitute whose nickname is Devil, is summoned by her Chinese pimp called Fellatio Lim Boon Fatt. Lim had been so christened by an eternal enemy and accepted the challenge of a name like Fellatio, not understanding what it meant. He never figured out the guffaws that accompanied his call card. Lim sends Ning the prostitute and concerned mother of one, to a hotel to meet a sadist Arab. Remembering how the Arab had beaten her up black and blue the last time, Ning now does a Lorena Bobbit with her teeth and stuffs the partly bitten-off organ into the startled Arab's mouth. Suck yourself, she tells him feelingly and escapes. The Arab bangs his head in the bathroom in a bid to catch her, falls, slips and dies with half a penis corking up his mouth.

Earlier, the Arab crook on his murderous mission had spread his wads of cash upon the bed. Ning grabs it all and rushes off to keep her next appointment with Terry and his friends. Soon terrorists are on their way to grab the money from Ning. They kill Terry's childhood friends who get in the way and chase Terry and Ning all the way to hell.

The confused and scared couple enlist the help of a taxi driver Chia, who's always been addicted to CIA conspiracy theories. But now with a couple on the run in his taxi and real terrorists chasing him on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Chia lives his drama out for real.

Others get in the game too. There is the silly, battered Fellatio Lim who refuses to say die, a bungling terrorist Julio Chavez, a bent copper Detective Azmi and Joe Maniam the reporter greedy for a scoop. All are funny. All pounce too, hot on the trails of each other and their many bungling adventures and butterfingered attempts at securing the money are ticklish to say the least. The policemen who appear to masquerade as stooges, find themselves locked in their own jails as they stupidly let detainees escape. There are more murders along the way as 4 characters, Terry, Ning, Pak Jam and cab-driver Chia develop a close camaraderie and together, dodge the long hypocritical arms of the law.

Gomez demonstrates a splendid gift for balancing several characters in a jolly fashion. This, very much in keeping with a successful trapeze act at a circus performance. The plot's harmonious blend with characterization, lends a heightened amusing pace and never lets up to the slightest trace of dullness or boredom. He captures the essence of Malaysian life poking gentle fun at each culture's quirky traits and his devilment is genius enough to be instantly forgivable.

Far from a pretentious writer striving for a contrived style, he lets the liberty of his pen roll to high exclaimations of surprise that I daresay may shock even himself. Devoid of affectations, Gomez stretches his assortment of bizarre characters with meticulous flawless co-ordination and the author forms a distinct aptitude for the exhibition of his novel that seems to have been written with effortless grace rather than having contended with a laboured task.

What I thought especially brilliant lay once more in his show-and-tell techniques. The logistics of human vulnerability which Gomez maintains to ensure the novel's credibility, for instance. When confronted by a gunman while taking refuge in Chia's apartment, Terry professes ignorance much against his better judgement while answering the gunman's urgent pesterings to where something could be hidden. This because Terry try as he might can only recall Chia's strange addiction for newspaper clippings pasted stoutly on the walls. The reader is reminded that the hero is in a stranger's house. There are no super hero tricks to be sure.

Also, when Terry and Ning take refuge once more at Farouk's mother's house, Farouk's mum Aunty Faridah lets the tears spring to her eyes. Farouk was one of Terry childhood pals, shot by a pursuing terrorist, Sulaiman in the early chapters. When Terry says he wants to take a leak, she reminds him to aim correctly. She cries because she remembers saying the same thing to her son as a child. These were subtle elements that prodded Gomez's tale with life and colour and added on those sorely needed subdued moments without fuss. Also, the fascinating way the taxi driver, Chia held on to his love for the conspiracy theory from start to finish showed Gomez's loyalty to and care for his characters.

My only gripe was that I found it a little hard to believe in Terry's love story with the Thai prostitute at the expense of the lives of his childhood friends whom he had known for many years. I didn't feel that the old bruises on Devil's back, sustained at the hands of the wicked Arab would compensate enough for the loss of 3 lives.

Nevertheless, a sparkling story, this!

Credit: Special mention for Adverse Sdn. Bhd. who created the cover design.
As for the black discount sticker, just a bit of devilment on my part.

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