Moon the Night is the surprising contemporary sequel to Hustle the East, a richly detailed historical novel about Laos.
Originally published two years ago, Hustle the East unspooled three narratives describing the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. Moon the Night is a ghost story/murder mystery set against events in 2018. The new novel follows the exploits of the three original narrators — the bumbling idealist Benny Bendit; Sangkhom, the Lao man who served Communists and Americans in times of conflict; and Chansamone, the charming and headstrong Lao woman they both loved.
Depressed after divorce and bankruptcy in Chicago, Benny returns to Laos to make a clean start, selling village-made soap for a non-profit. Repeating past missteps, Benny is living with a Lao woman he doesn’t trust. When Joyy comes home after a week away, she finds Benny dead, his body mutilated and his stomach stuffed with bamboo chips. Eerily, a government official proclaims that the American was attacked by a female vampire ghost with backward feet.
Sangkhom, now a university lecturer called Sam, and Chansamone, an Asian-fusion chef called Chan, travel from Hawaii to investigate their friend’s mysterious death in Vientiane.
Chef Chan learns from a fisherman that Benny’s body was found floating in the Mekong River before it was attacked by a vampire. Among the suspects she identifies are his girlfriend’s knife-wielding lover; a half-crazed Corsican who thinks Benny is flirting with his ex-wife; and a Korean assassin armed with a 9 mm pistol.
Whereas Hustle the East focused on northern Laos, Moon the Night meanders through the south of Laos. In July 2018, Chan travels to Attapeu to inquire about Benny’s activity as a soap-seller. Unaware of each other’s involvement, Chan and Sam join relief and rescue efforts with unforeseen results for each of them.
Returning to Vientiane, Chan learns intriguing details from a flamboyant Lao caterer and the Coroner who filed the death-by-vampire–ghost finding in the case of Benny’s murder. Meanwhile Sam is lured to a rendezvous with a shady government agent cum wedding singer named Whisky Soda, who has laid a trap for him.
Readers who know Vientiane will recognize landmarks including the Mekong riverfront, Namphu Fountain, Kop Chai Deu and Spirit House restaurants, and the Bor Pen Nyang Bar.
The historical novel Hustle the East, which first introduced readers to Benny Bendit and his friends and enemies, has been republished by Paulele Press, and is again available on Amazon and Kindle.