Published by Hogarth
Publication date: January 12th 2016
Lawrence Osborne was a travel journalist and currently lives in Bangkok, but his latest novel Hunters in the Dark is not one that will inspire readers to head to Southeast Asia. Instead, it has a Heart of Darkness feel—where the language spoken by the natives is not one that can ever be learned by foreigners and behind nods and smiles is a deep-seated, unforgiving mistrust of outsiders. Robert is a British schoolteacher who spends his summers traveling aimlessly. The novel opens as he crosses from Thailand into Cambodia. He stops to gamble at a casino and ends up winning a large sum of money. This awakens feelings in him that perhaps he should not go home at the end of the summer but make a new life in Cambodia. Shed his skin. As he moves through the country he meets a genial American who invites him to his home. When he awakens it is the next day and he’s on a boat heading towards Phnom Penh without his passport and only $100 in his pocket. The decision to change his life has been taken out of his hands and all that is left is what he will make of who he is now.
Hunters in the Dark is about exactly that. The prize is the casino money and as each character achieves their goal of owning it they become the hunted. In this literary tale Osborne gives much space to superstition, spirits and those ephemeral beliefs that are the perfect enhancement for rationalization. Every character in the novel has a mindset, be it karma or ghosts, for what they do, good or evil. It robs the reader of logical thought because it has been discarded from the first page. Trying to decipher why what happens happens is futile and yet, this doesn’t render the novel uninteresting. Hunters in the Dark is not my favorite of Osborne’s books (The Forgiven is), but in it his magnetic prose evokes sights, sounds, and smells beyond the reach of tourists. This is a sullen swollen place where no one is to be trusted but each goes along with the other anyway because… what else is there to do? In the same languorous way, the many themes and twists in Hunters in the Dark beckon the reader onward.