Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence Osborne ’

‘The Glass Kingdom’ by Lawrence Osborne – Bangkok is a Place Where Nearly Everyone is on the Take


‘The Glass Kingdom’ by Lawrence Osborne (2020) – 292 pages

As I have mentioned before, Lawrence Osborne is excellent at capturing the flavor of the people’s lives in the locales where he situates his novels. His stories are always well-observed. The biggest problem with ‘The Glass Kingdom’ is that it takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, and the flavor of the lives of the people who live there and who travel there is quite wretched.

Booming and exotic with a large number of visitors from other countries Bangkok, Thailand is a great place for a young woman who has just embezzled $200,000 to get lost in. Or so it seems to Sarah (a made-up name) who is from the United States. Sarah decides to hide out in Bangkok, in a luxurious residential complex called the Glass Kingdom, four connected 21 story towers. Built in the Nineties, by now the Glass Kingdom has lost some of its luster and has been surpassed by several even more luxurious residential complexes. This is exactly the kind of place Sarah wanted, a somewhat nondescript place she can lose herself in.

You can disappear in Bangkok pretty easily because it’s a big city. And it’s so free and loose.”

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and has a population of over 8 million people. It has a large tourism industry based on restaurants, bars, and sex clubs. Both Chinese and Japanese entrepreneurs invest huge amounts of money in Thailand.

At the Glass Kingdom, Sarah meets a small group of young women who get together to play cards occasionally. Mali is herself from Thailand, Ximena is from Chile, and Natalie is from England. Bangkok is a cosmopolitan place, and nearly everyone there is on the take.

There is also a Thai maid, Goi, who plays a significant role in the story. The Thais are justly suspicious of all the white people who visit their country. The white people are referred to by the derogatory term “farangs”. Be prepared for some quite gruesome things happening.

Absolutely none of the characters in ‘The Glass Kingdom’ is likable or honest. They each seem to have their own scam going.

Sometimes a person’s unconscious falsity was more interesting than their conscious virtues.”

Thailand is wealthy today, thanks to Chinese and Japanese business owners. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect about Thailand is that it is a military dictatorship. Whenever there is any coup or disruption that might affect the tourist industry, the government uses military force to clamp down.

Everyone is brave until a soldier prepares to blow your head off.”

Osborne captures all the colorful details of Bangkok, its flowers, its lizards, its overwhelming heat. The problem is that every person in ‘The Glass Kingdom’ and perhaps all of Bangkok is compromised, and none of them seemed worthy of empathy.


Grade:    B



‘Only to Sleep’ by Lawrence Osborne – From the Border Down Into Mexico

‘Only to Sleep’ by Lawrence Osborne     (2018) – 256 pages

Lawrence Osborne was asked by the Raymond Chandler estate to write a Philip Marlowe detective novel, and ‘Only to Sleep’ is what Osborne came up with. I’m not that familiar with Raymond Chandler’s writing, but this is my fourth Osborne novel. I find reading Lawrence Osborne to be a more than adequate replacement for reading Graham Greene whose work I’ve nearly completed. So for me the crucial question would be “Is ‘Only to Sleep’ a good Lawrence Osborne novel?

In ‘Only to Sleep’ we have a 72 year-old retired Philip Marlowe living along the California-Mexico border. The year is 1988. He is lured out of retirement by a life insurance fraud case where the company suspects the beneficiary of faking his death. Most of the story takes place south of the border in Mexico. Apparently Osborne worked as a reporter in this area at one time so he knows this colorful locale well.

This is a Mexico where rich old United States men bring their extremely young wives or girlfriends along in their yachts to Mexican towns along the coast. This is their last fling to which these guys think they are entitled, and they throw wild parties aboard the yachts with drugs and lots of alcohol. Meanwhile Marlowe stays in exotic Mexican hotels as he investigates the case.

In ‘Only to Sleep’, the young femme fatale wife is named Dolores who says lines like “The only thing that matters in life is getting through it to the end without being broke.”

I am familiar enough with Raymond Chandler to realize that he is famous for his snappy lines, and Osborne has written plenty of them here.

It was ninety-seven in the shade and there was no shade.”

He moved like a sloth in linen.”

She seemed dressed for a date in the middle of nowhere.”

We all need something in this world. We all come from places where we can’t get them.”

You get so tired of the people you already know.”

But does this work as a Lawrence Osborne novel? My answer would be “Yes”, it does. I used to not read whodunits considering them a lesser genre, However this one really does capture the flavor of the lives of these rich old Americans living along the Mexican border, and we do get glimpses of the wandering Mariachi bands and the Carnaval parades and the Mexican town police forces that must deal with these rich United States tourists.

I will keep reading Lawrence Osborne. ‘Only to Sleep’ is more than a whodunit.



Grade : A-



‘Beautiful Animals’ by Lawrence Osborne – A Dazzling Dreadful Summer on a Greek Island


‘Beautiful Animals’ by Lawrence Osborne   (2017) – 287 pages

“A summer was just a summer, and its dead bodies should remain confined to it.”

Two young women, Naomi and Amy, develop a friendship over summer while their families stay on the Greek island of Hydra. The Greece debt crisis is a tragedy for the Greek people as they must now live in austere circumstances.  However there are still all of these obscenely rich families from around the world including England and the United States who stay at their villas on the Greek islands to spend their dazzling summer vacations going to stylish restaurants and tavernas and private parties and perhaps swimming in the sea at some secluded spot.

The summer intensifies for Naomi and Amy when they discover a young man, Faoud, escaped from Syria and washed up on shore in one of these secluded spots.

“To save another person: it wasn’t nothing … it was a small shift in the balance of power towards the weak.”

What could be more romantic for these two young women than saving this young good-looking Muslim guy who speaks correct English and needs their help?

“His misfortunes made him charismatic,” Naomi thinks, “and therefore arousing.”

Naomi comes up with a so-called “plan”.   However events tumble out of control as they tend to do.  Later the action switches from Greece to Italy.

In dealing with these international situations of intrigue, Lawrence Osborne comes about as close as any modern writer to Graham Greene.   Osborne’s writing doesn’t quite have the quirky charm of Graham Greene but his efficient prose does speed you along and makes for compulsive reading.  David Sexton in the Evening Standard has described Lawrence Osborne as “pitilessly good” and said that comparisons with Graham Greene “aren’t even flattering anymore”.   I would not quite go that far as I have read over a dozen Graham Greene novels and consider Greene the gold standard in international intrigue novels.  However Lawrence Osborne is among the best of the English writers today carrying on that noble travel tradition of Graham Greene.

“There is nothing more exasperating than reading in contemporary guidebooks disparagements of places that are deemed to be “seedy.” Do the writers not notice that such places are invariably crowded with people? When a neighborhood is described as “seedy” by some Lonely Planet prude, I immediately head there.” – Lawrence Osborne


Grade :   A-


‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ by Lawrence Osborne – Gambling in Macau

‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ by Lawrence Osborne  (2014) – 257 pages


cover210x330Our hero, ‘Lord Doyle’ (he’s not really a lord), in ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ is sitting at a high rollers table in the Greek Mythology casino in Macau, a small peninsula off the Chinese mainland near Hong Kong.  Macau is called the Monte Carlo of the Orient, and its gambling revenue has surpassed that of Las Vegas since 2007.  Most of the gamblers in Macau are Chinese business people, but gamblers from all over the world come there.

Our hero is playing the punto banco version of baccarat which is his game.  He is quite forthright on how he came by his money.  Previously as a lawyer in England he embezzled a large sum of money from a wealthy elderly female client, and then he flew away and escaped to Macau.

Earlier I was quite taken with Lawrence Osborne’s novel ‘The Forgiven’, because of its expert depth in presenting life in a foreign land which I found similar to writers such as Graham Greene and Paul Theroux.  Thus I had high expectations for ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’.

The entire plot of this novel revolves around gambling in the Macau casinos.  If you are not deeply interested in the world of high stakes gambling, you are probably not going to have much interest in the story in this novel.  That was my problem.  I have absolutely no appreciation for the world of gambling.   I figure the odds in gambling are always stacked in favor of the house, and I have never been tempted to gamble.  There is a reason that casino owners from Aristotle Onassis to Donald Trump to Sheldon Adelson are among the richest people in the world.

‘…everyone knows you are not a real player until you secretly prefer losing.’

 Beyond my lack of interest in gambling itself, I wound not want to go to these flashy plastic places like Las Vegas and apparently Macau.  These casino areas always seem like cold and bitter lifeless places.

Macau Casino District

Macau Casino District

My lack of enthusiasm for gambling is not the only reason for my lack of enthusiasm for ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’.  The characters in the novel did not appeal to me.  Most of the novel focuses on the main character Lord Doyle who is absolutely obsessed with gambling.  He meets a call girl Dao-Ming who stupidly, in my opinion, gives him some of her money to gamble.  There is a lot of talk about synchronicity and causality and the Chinese mind and supposedly having control over one’s luck, all of which may just as well have been nonsense gibberish as far as I’m concerned.

So ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ was a severe disappointment for me.  The next time if I consider reading a novel by Lawrence Osborne, I will make sure it has nothing at all to do with gambling.

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