Book Title: Bangkok Burning
Author: Robin Newbold
Publisher: The Conrad Press
Cover Artist: Charlotte Mouncey
Release Date: January 2021
Genre: Gay Thriller
Tropes: Coming out story
Themes: Good against evil fight
Heat Rating: 3 flames
Length: 80 000 words/305 pages
It is a standalone book and does not end on a cliffhanger.
How far would you go to get what you want?
Bangkok Burning is a brilliantly unsettling thriller about the dark side of desire. It is also something of a warped love letter to a place teeming with a rogues’ gallery of characters, for this is not just about one man’s struggle but a portrait of a whole city on the brink.
Closeted forty-year-old Graham Floyd, trapped by anxiety issues and an abusive marriage, finally escapes, running away from his lifeless existence on a smile and a whim, swapping dreary south London for the brutal chaos of Bangkok. He soon finds himself prey not only to Natasha, the transsexual nightclub schemer he loses his heart to, but in thrall to the slimy American millionaire Svengali who owns her. In a place where Graham is at last true to himself, will he triumph in a fight to the death to get what he really wants?
Graham knew he only had seven days, just a week to get what he craved – a new life.
A cacophony of voices in pidgin English broke him out of his trance, the grabbing, everywhere hands accosting him as he neared the entrance. He was back, the tawdry plywood exterior looking even poorer than he remembered illuminated by the tacky red neon sign announcing Christie Cabaret Show. Greeted by the same throbbing Thai pop music, beating in time to his heart, the gutter stink of cheap perfume, the place looked much smaller and far more decadent than it had in his mind’s eye over the last few weeks. In his dreams he’d expected to walk in and find her, poised, as if she’d been waiting for him, but Graham felt cheated as he looked around frantically at the other ladyboys. Though how he hated that word, the fact he could possibly be desperate for one of their ilk. Staring out at the braying red-faced punters, Thai girls curled serpent-like around bovine white men, their eyes calculating every move, brains computing every sentence uttered he saw a kind of hell and of Natasha there was no sign.
‘God,’ he said to himself, feeling his muscles tense, mouth desert dry, palms leaking sweat, chewing at nails so destroyed blood was oozing out of them.
‘Can I help you, Sir?’ said not a divine being but a heavily made-up boy.
‘Where’s Natasha?’ he said, wheeling around, scanning the bar again.
‘Natasha?’ said the boy with a shrug.
He flopped down at a bar stool overlooking the ramshackle stage, sighing as the first strains of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ – one of wife Sheila’s favourites – struck up and a ridiculously elaborately dressed ladyboy appeared, lip-synching in all the wrong places.
‘Beer, please,’ said Graham to the boy who’d continued to hover and he was gone with a practised and unnecessary shake of his arse.
‘All right, babe. As one alcoholic would say to another, you look like you need a drink,’ said a man to his right, fruity voice cutting through the din, a gnarled hand seemingly weighed down by a worrying amount of gold jewellery enveloping his arm. ‘Great this, ain’t it.’
‘Graham, what’s yours? Though everyone calls me Gray as in Mr Gray. Like my life,’ he said, turning to look at his new best friend, taking in the yellowing skin which was the hue of old newspapers, the gin-coloured hair.
‘Nigel… Nigel Monroe.’
‘Good to meet you, Nigel Monroe.’
‘You can live like a king ‘ere, dear,’ he said, voice a shouty amalgam of Cockney and camp, raising a glass unsteadily with one hand, patting the boy’s arse with the other. ‘These girls, you see, know what they want and how to get it.’
‘Do you know Natasha?’
‘Let’s see, I’ve been here since 1990, so that’s twenty years now. Twenty bloody years man and boy…’
‘Where were you before?’
‘Before? Was there a before?’ he said, looking out into the middle distance. ‘All over. And you?’
‘Don’t sound like it.’
‘I don’t have a strong accent. Guess you could say I’m well read. Like my crosswords and that. But, come on, what have you been doing here?’
‘Ah, the first rule of being an expat, never ask that question ‘ere,’ he said, shakily raising a hand. ‘People get offended. But, you know, this and that…’
As he tailed off, Graham sensed regret, his companion staring off beyond the nonsense on stage and into the darkness beyond, as though wondering how he’d ‘lost touch’, so the phrase went, with friends and family, with his roots, with who he actually was, traded it all in for a seat in a dive bar in a city halfway around the world. He didn’t want to bloody end up like that.
About the Author
Robin Newbold is a Hove-based journalist and freelance travel writer, having returned to England after six years living in the Far East. His work has appeared in Time Out, the South China Morning Post, Bangkok Metro and Gay Times. This is his third novel. Bloody Summer was published in 2012, while Vacuum-Packed came out in 2014. He is a Crystal Palace fan.
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