Bustin' Caps in Bangkok: The Mile High Book Club

on Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Last time I flew Thai Airways, I was headed to Israel to tour with the band. We were typically boisterous, no doubt annoying to all those around us, and it was a great trip. When it came to booking this flight I insisted flying Thai again because, if nothing else, I remember the food being great. And so it was that Debbie and I boarded the plane to begin our journey. For the first step in my April challenge, The Mile High Book Club, I had my airport copy of the latest Underbelly stuffed in my backpack wedged somewhere between Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, a sheath of unread correspondence and my pharmacy-worthy stash of medications. Being the nervous character that I am, I was dreading flying into a danger zone. Things had been hotting up with the red-shirts. I called my travel agent a few days beforehand and asked what my chances of getting to Thailand safely were. "Oh, you'll have no problem getting there," he replied. "I just can't vouch for your safety once you've landed". Great. I don't sleep on airplanes as it is. Buckle me up and bring on the chow. But the food was crap. I've become a vegetarian since that last time I flew. Back then it was some yummy prawn/fish curry thing. This time, unidentifiable stuff in Clag sauce. At least I had some ass-kickin', cap-bustin' Aussie gangsta expose to cheer me up. Until...

A review of sorts.

Three things I won't dispute.

1.The first Underbelly was genius because there had really been a crazy gang war in Melbourne. Alphonse Gangitano was shot dead two doors up from my grandparents. Mick Gatto killed Andrew "Benji" Veniamin around the corner from where I work. And Victor Pierce was shot dead in his car outside the supermarket two minutes from my place. Goddammit I was a major player! Like most of Melbourne's population I was downloading copies of the TV series from torrent sites because it wasn't allowed to be aired in this town lest it prejudice a jury in some ongoing court cases.

2.The second Underbelly was kind of cool. I spent much of my childhood up on the Victorian/New South Welsh border and I knew that it had been the mafia hub for much of the 1980's. I even knew some of the colourful characters, though not in their drug dealing, cement shoe fitting capacities. I was not fussed either way by Matthew Newton's ass.

3. King's Cross is filthy place and has, on a number of occasions, made for interesting literary fodder.

So here's the thing. Underbelly: The Golden Mile probably should have been good. It probably should have been exciting. And it most certainly should have been more than a pastiche of vaguely interesting tabloid pieces. Andrew Rule and John Silvester have unfortunately become complacent. Lazy even. They know their book will sell whatever trash they fill it with. Heck, there is a built-in 12 week advertising campaign, with the latest TV series airing as I write. Yet, whereas the first two Underbelly books were coherent tales, this is just an episodic hodge podge. I can't help but feel they wrote each chapter as an independent article, perhaps intending it for sale to the highest bidding newspaper. Incidents are often repeated. As are explanations of who each key player was. Either the authors think their readers are idiots, or... um.. Nope, that's it. Arguably the biggest problem with this book is that it was beaten to the punch almost fifteen years ago by the amazing series Blue Murder. Many of the episodes contained in The Golden Mile were much more grippingly dealt with in a TV show that, rather like the first Underbelly series, was banned in its home state. As I put the book down I wanted to pop a cap in its ass. Told you I was a major player!

I spent a great couple of days lazing in Bangkok. Didn't see any protests, though apparently a couple of bombs went off while we were there. Survived a brutal thai massage as well as several fantastic meals at street hawker stalls (there's something eminently enjoyable about being the only white guy in a cavern full of feasting thai people). And I managed to wade through the majority of The Magic Mountain. It all came to an end too quickly, and off we trudged back to the airport. Straight to the bookstore. Where Number 2 on the chart was...

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo!!!! Yes. A free pass. Having already read it I could skip this one in the challenge and read something of my own choosing instead. I had Simon Lelic's Rupture in my backpack. Time to head off to Jordan.


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