Death in the Rainy Season by Anna Jaquiery

Author: Anna Jaquiery
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Copyright Year: 2015
Review By: Angela Savage and Sandra Nicholson
Book Synopsis:
Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.
Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?
Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

Review by Angela Savage
Death in the Rainy Season is Melbourne-based writer Anna Jaquiery’s follow up to her 2014 debut, The Lying-Down Room. Both novels feature Parisian detective Commandant Serge Morel, whose late mother was Cambodian, and whose French father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. (Jaquiery, herself of French-Malaysian descent, spent time in Cambodia as a child prior to 1975). Where the first novel, set in France, was a slow burner, Death in the Rainy Season, set in Cambodia, sets a cracking pace from the first chapter and doesn’t let up.

Morel is on leave, visiting the Angkor temples of Siem Reap, when Frenchman Hugo Quercy is murdered in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Quercy, the charismatic and outspoken head of a well-respected non-government organisation (NGO), also happens to be the nephew of the French Interior Minister. Morel is dispatched by his boss to join forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit in investigating Quercy’s death.

Quercy was found brutally beaten to death, in a hotel room that he’s checked into under a false name. He leaves behind a pregnant wife, Florence; close friends Paul and Mariko Arda, who followed him to Cambodia from France; a team of dedicated, if envious staff; and any number of enemies. Sarit is keen to see the case explained as ‘a settling of accounts between barang. Westerners.’ But it emerges that Quercy has been both pursuing foreign paedophiles and investigating forced evictions, which multiples the number of possible motives for his murder, at least as far as Morel is concerned.

There is so much to like about this book. The atmosphere, culture and politics of the Cambodian setting are vividly brought to life. A place where ‘the rain came with a sudden roar’, so heavy it made ‘the world disappear’. Where ‘people could be matter of fact about flesh and blood, but spirits were another matter’. Where activists are shot with impunity and the government is accused of ‘selling the country bit by bit’.

The novel also sheds a revealing light on NGO culture, examining the complex mix of evangelism and ego, altruism and avoidance, that draws people to this line of work. As someone previously immersed in that world, for me Jaquiery’s observations are authentic and insightful.

Morel is a wonderful character, flawed by in ways atypical of crime fiction detectives (he drinks in moderation and has given up smoking). He is reflective, astute, and inclined to melancholy, dealing with the secrets and lies of his own family, as well as Hugo Quercy’s.

Compelling, clever and captivating, Death in the Rainy Season is a deeply satisfying read. Highly recommended.
This review first appeared on the Blog of Angela savage and we thank her for sharing.

Review by Sandra Nicholson
This is the second book in the Commandant Serge Morel series. Having now read both, I think that this book is even better than the first one. Commandant Serge Morel is enjoying a well deserved break in Siem Reap.

As he is preparing for the journey home he receives a call from his boss, Superintendent Olivier Perrin advising him that a French national, Hugo Quercy, nephew of the Interior Minister, has been mudered in a hotel room in Phnom Penh and that Morel is to remain and assist with the investigaion. He is not at all happy. He meets with the local police officer assigned to the case, Police Chief Chey Sarit, and the doctor who attended the scene and examined the victim, Sok Pran, only to find out that there were no photograhs or fingerprints taken at the scene and the Manager of the hotel where the victim was found took the statements from his own staff. Things did not get off to a good start. He also discovers that due to the political climate in Cambodia, the quicker the investigation is complete the better.

Quercy was the very high profile, well thought of and well connected head of Kids at Risk, an organizaion that removes children form vulnerable situations and puts them into education and training programs which lead to employment. They work well with the police and government and were responsible for a number of paedophiles being goaled. Quercy was also investigating the ‘land grabs’ so it is not clear whether either of these issues were the catalyst for his murder.

Quercy’s colleagues describe him as man who was passionate about his work and inspired passion in others. His mother thinks he must be on drugs to treat her the way he does – he rarely contacts her and hasn’t been back to visit her in some time. She just wants the investigation to conclude as soon as possible. Florence, Hugo’s wife, and Mariko and Paul Arda, his friends since university, want the truth.

Morel appears to come up against brick walls at every turn but despite the obstacles he does succeed in uncovering the murderer, as well as helping to smash a high level paedophile ring. This book is certainly atmospheric.

Anna Jaquiery has captured, through her descriptive language, the feel of the steaming tropical heat of Cambodia, the frustrations of Morel as he conducts an investigation in less than ideal circumstances and the tension of working under a corrupt system, where the potential outcome of an investigation has to be weighed against the personal backlash from superiors if the result reflects poorly on Cambodia. There are a number of twists and turns but all the threads come together at the end to create a very interesting and surprising conclusion. This was a great read from the first until the last page and was very hard to put down. I am eagerly anticipating the next Serge Morel adventure.