Monday, September 8, 2014

Review of Salty by Mark Haskell Smith (2007, Black Cat)

Turk Henry, former bass player with the biggest rock band on the planet - Metal Assassin - and recovering sex addict, and his supermodel wife, Sheila, are on holiday in Thailand.  Turk is in a funk, unsure what to do now that the band has split, and just wants to sit on the beach and drink beer.  Sheila wants to explore and to take an elephant ride.  Heading into the jungle without Turk she gets more excitement than she anticipated when the group she is with is kidnapped by pirates.  Turk is quite happy to pay the million dollar ransom, but a neurotic Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent has other ideas, seeing the kidnapping as a way to fast-track his career and to get him reassigned somewhere cooler and more hygienic.  Meanwhile, Turk’s manager is plotting his rock star’s triumphant come-back after heroically saving his wife.  What should have been a straightforward transfer of cash, soon turns into trial for Turk, who for the past twenty years has had his life organised for him, but now has to take charge of his own destiny.

Salty is a darkly comic crime caper set in Phuket and Bangkok in Thailand that follows the travails of Turk Henry, a washed-up former rock star and recovering sex addict, as he tries to save his supermodel wife, an ex-drug addict whom he met in rehab, from a group of Thai pirates.  The set-up is relatively straightforward, putting the interests of different parties -- Turk, Sheila, an American government representative, the pirates, Turk’s manager and assistant, MaryBeth -- into conflict or tension and riffing on the interplay and character development as each has a small epiphany that helps them come to see themselves for who they really are.  For the latter to work, the characters have to be somewhat tarnished and a little unlikeable at the start and it takes some time to warm to some of them (and a few stay unlikeable).  The narrative is also full of cliches and cultural and country stereotypes, which are barely worked against.  As a result, I was never really firmly hooked into the story until near the end.  What kept me reading was the workable setup and the story moving at a relatively quick clip.  Overall, an enjoyable enough yarn that never quite kicked into a higher gear.

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