Synopsis: Working Tokyo nightclubs is easy money for beautiful and troubled American Val Benson - until a client with a rather unusual hobby - painting the private parts of his female liaisons - reluctantly gives up a map to a stash of Japanese war loot and tempts his favorite girl into a dangerous treasure hunt.
The Congressman's daughter is not the only one interested in the map: yakuza, bent cops, human traffickers, rogue CIA agents and her father are hot on her trail, snapping at her high heels.
So begins the dark, epic journey of a new anti-hero of Asian Noir, a protagonist both ambiguous and courageous, and utterly unreliable. From comfort women and tomb-raiding in Japanese-occupied Burma to the murderous echoes of the Vietnam War, long forgotten crimes come roaring back to life, as Val leaves a trail of destruction and chaos in her wake.
Together with her best friend, the equally unreliable nightclub hostess Suki, Val travels through Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok to the Thai-Burmese borderlands for a dramatic showdown with her pursuers. Finding the treasure before everyone else does is her only hope for survival, and perhaps redemption.
Rating: 5 stars *****
My first thought when reading the title, was that this book was going to be weird, maybe even funny or comical in some way. I know I judged wrongly before even reading. Gaijin Cowgirl is a mixture of historical fiction, vividly packed scenes and a bite of suspense that will leave the reader on edge.
We follow Val Benson as she peruses through Tokyo connecting with old friends all the while making new ones. It is here that she gets her hands on an old map that leads to unspoken treasures. While I don’t agree with her methods of retrieving the map, I was a little bit peeved with the artist who made a habit of painting female genitalia; I thought this act of thievery gave the novel a more sinister appeal.
And it didn’t stop there.
Val finds herself hunted by others as she uses the map to seek the treasure in the Thai Jungle. As I do not want to spoil the thriller packed suspense of this novel, as going into more detail will do, I will tell you this. If this had been a movie, it would definitely not disappoint.
Jame’s writing style is fascinating; he gives the reader a thrill ride type story line before packing them with a heavy punch. He doesn’t leave anything left unturned and his book was very satisfying.
DWED: First, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in the United States but I’ve been living in Hong Kong since 1997 as a financial journalist. I’m happy to report there is nothing about finance in “Gaijin Cowgirl”.
DWED: Have you always aspired to publish a novel?
Since before I was born.
DWED: Would you say the journey to publishing was easy or hard? Why?
The journey to publishing is never easy unless you are already rich, beautiful and famous. And the journey isn’t really ‘to’ publishing. It’s a bit like looking for leprechauns at the end of the rainbow: you think you’ve arrived and somebody’s moved the pot of gold over the next hill.
DWED: Who or what would you say inspired “Gaijin Cowgirl”?
It’s a combination of things, but a major factor is my regular travels throughout Asia, a region I love to be in, and which I try to interpret.
DWED: How was the concept of “Gaijin Cowgirl” born?
I was hanging out very late nights in Tokyo bars when a foreign hostess was reported missing and it planted some seeds. I wanted to show the underbelly of societies but I didn’t want to write some trashy novel about white guys misbehaving abroad. There’s an awful lot of really bad novels around very boring exploits involving white dudes and Asian dolls. Ugh. I love thrillers and espionage novels, but ones with a social meaning and three-dimensional characters. So I decided to tell the story from a female point of view.
DWED: How does “Gaijin Cowgirl” stand out? What does it offer and more importantly what can viewers find within it pages?
First of all, it’s entertainment. It’s a rockin’ rollercoaster. So you buy it for fun. Secondly it digs into some dark, nasty stuff, with both Asian and American culprits, but it isn’t titillation, because of the strong female leads and my own dedication to telling history as fairly as possible. Thirdly it will give you a strong sense of a time and a place, and while I try to treat Asian characters and settings on the level, I leave a touch of the exotic in there – not stereotypes, I hope, but color.
DWED: At length how would you describe the feedback for “Gaijin Cowgirl”?
The book has generated terrific reviews so far on Amazon.com, including newspapers. Noir Nation named it their Editor’s Pick, which was great. And I’m very pleased to be on DWED. Thank you for having me. The feedback that has counted the most is that of my editors at Crime Wave Press. Their enthusiasm allowed “Gaijin Cowgirl” to arrive.
DWED: Would you say you have a unique style of writing?
No, beyond the banal observation that every person’s different. The style in “Gaijin Cowgirl” is like many books today, particularly thrillers, in that it is visual, cinematic. I plead guilty to the charge that most contemporary writers are unduly influenced by movies. In my defence, I think my characters and dialogue are above average.
DWED: What kind of messages do you try to instill in your writing?
I’ve found this interesting and challenging. A lot of my motivation comes from wanting to talk about the history of the United States’ involvement in Asia and some of the weirder or darker episodes of the 20th century. I’m also interested in examining and understanding contemporary Asian societies – it’s a fascinating place to live and work, and I’m privileged to be here. At the same time, I read thrillers to be entertained first, so a lot of the messages are either in the backstory or remain mostly in my head. Novelists make lousy preachers.
DWED: Who is your favorite character in “Gaijin Cowgirl” and why?
The lead character, Val Benson, is a classic anti-hero, or anti-heroine, if you prefer. She’s a selfish, superficial, manipulative piece of work. She’s also super hot. I guess she’s the kind of woman that a lot of men desire but few possess – and she wouldn’t be worth the trouble if you did. But the story is how she ends up having to survive by digging for an inner intelligence and courage. I think this makes her interesting. She was also difficult to write; I never knew what the hell she’d do next.
DWED: Who is your least favorite character in “Gaijin Cowgirl” and why?
I love all my children! An important character is Val’s friend Suki, a Japanese hostess who joins her on the run. I quite like Suki, actually, who is a blend of imagination and a few people I’ve known. The book would be empty without her. But after a certain point, the story is Val’s. I had to cut out a lot of Suki from the book for pace. Which is a shame. She serves as the book’s primary window on Japan.
DWED: How is the tour for “Gaijin Cowgirl” going?
Well I’m having fun, although I can’t seem to get a martini on DWED. Perhaps we can change the format?
DWED: Where will you be stopping next for your tour?
The publishers have devised a busy schedule in the virtual world. In the real world, I’m based in Hong Kong, but for now our efforts are mainly online.
DWED: What can we look forward to seeing from you throughout 2013?
I am in the unusual position of having two books be published this year. First of course is “Gaijin Cowgirl”. This summer, my non-fiction book, “The Story of Angkor”, is slated to come out. It’s a history for tourists visiting Cambodia’s temples.
DWED: What would you say to all aspiring authors like yourself?
I’m gonna get all Buddha’d up on you and say, look to yourself for salvation.
DWED: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like your readers and potential readers to know about both your work and yourself?
I never knew the broad, yer honor, and them fingerprints is a set-up. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.