Saturday, October 17, 2009
A Novel Based on Actual Events
by Tad Hutton
(Foremost Press / 0-981-84189-9 / 978-0-981-84189-2 / August 2009 / 134 pages / $11.97)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
In my previous review for PODBRAM, I observed that since books are food for the soul, then one might think of a particular book in terms of specific dishes. That tactic is useful with the present book. Take several nicely fried Filipino lumpia, a Vietnamese spring roll, a small saucer of Japanese sushi, some Chinese moo goo gai pan, and a bowl of steaming jasmine rice. Add a bottle of fish oil, Chinese mustard, plum sauce, a good soy sauce, chopsticks, and an American fortune cookie. The result: a small, exotic pan-Asian feast, highly satisfying and perhaps leaving you in good humor but wanting more. That's not a bad extended metaphor for God's Money, by Tad Hutton.
If the book is based on actual events, as is claimed, I have no knowledge of them, but they're not needed to enjoy the story. Basically, pirates sink a freighter, and a fortune in American money floats off, to be found years later by humble fishermen who must decide what to do with it. If you are thinking that the former owners of this money might get wind of the find and try to get the money back, you would be correct: thereby hangs our tale.
That bare outline could suggest yet another conventional boilerplate thriller, but that is not the case at all. Set among the thousands of islands in the South China Sea, the story is staffed with a marble cake of cultures, most of the representatives thereof qualifying as "characters" whatever their culture. The author seems well versed in the details of those cultures: of daily life, religion, bureaucracy, politics, and languages, all of which add to the sense of authenticity and local color. As for the characters themselves, start with a former Peace Corps volunteer/former financial manipulator, who got a little too clever in his dealings and decided to retire in obscurity to a small village on the South China Sea. Add a small group of poor but generous Christian fishermen and villagers, one timorous, bibulous Catholic Father, a boy who seldom speaks but who has a compass in his head and can commune with dolphins, a Filipino police lieutenant who has eyes for the village babe, comically grasping church officials, and an abandoned WWII Japanese soldier who has become a hermit and turned to meditation and the martial arts. Crown all with a truly scary pirate, and you have the makings of a juicy yarn.
The blurb says the story is unforgettable. This is a common claim for novels, but in this case it is justified. The writing and editing are pristine. My only complaint is that this "meal" (at only 134 pages) amounts to a working lunch. It could easily have been a banquet.
See Also: The Author's Website
Special Note: This is Tad Hutton's fifth book. His first two, published in '92 and '93 respectively, are out of print, but his third and fourth are available at Amazon alongside God's Money.