Eddie Dare is a downwardly mobile lawyer working in San Francisco, with two divorces and one son. One day a photograph arrives in the post with his head circled. Soon after a man turns up looking to hire him to find 400 million dollars that was removed from the South Vietnam’s national bank vault in the last days of the regime. It seems that he was a member of a company of American marines who unknowingly transported the money to Thailand. There it and his company commander, Captain Austin, disappears. Only Austin has recently died and now the US government, the Vietnamese and other interested parties are in a race to find the money. They all think that Eddie either knows where it is or can locate it. Persuaded to travel to Bangkok for a finder’s fee, Eddie arrives into a lively city with his fellow marine veteran, Winnebago Jones. Very quickly they’re floundering around trying to find the money and to stay alive.
The Big Mango was Needham’s first novel and it and his subsequent novels have all sold well in Asia (for some reason Needham refuses to allow his books to be published in North America). It’s competently written and plotted, with some relatively straightforward prose, some nice observational passages and occasional comic flourishes. Dare is a rather ordinary character and it’s the folk around him who add the colour. Bangkok is well detailed and there’s a good sense of place, giving a view of the city from a Western perspective. The plot was simple enough, with effectively four groups chasing down the money, intersecting at various points, and it comes to a nice, tense conclusion. There were a couple of niggles - one team dropped from view towards the end and the thread dealing with Dare’s relationship with his son is never fully developed. Overall, an enjoyable romp.