Book: In the Shadow of the Noonday Gun

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 3:24pm

In the Shadow of the Noonday Gun

by Mike Smith



Many retired expatriate policemen have settled in Hong Kong, but too few have come forward with readable evidence of their careers. So former officer Mike Smith's 16 semi-autobiographical short stories, In the Shadow of the Noonday Gun, is an obvious bestseller.

With his debut book already No1 on the local non-fiction charts, Smith, 60, is in the frame as a potential homegrown writing talent.

His anthology's finest yarn, Inside Job, about an attempt to apprehend a cat burglar at the force's living quarters, hints at life in a colonial-era "chummery". But nostalgia buffs might feel the author could have opened up more on the day-to-day aspects of colonial police life via conversations over beer and curries at The Hermitage, the banter after rugby training at Boundary Street, and hushed asides on careers and cases on the bowling green. Policemen are people too.

In The Contraband Circus and Mickey Mouse, the author fascinates with clear descriptions of busts. Luk Sam Sam and The Bicycle reveal new takes on 1970s police corruption. But Smith relates events factually, as he might in court, with scant attention to characters' thoughts.

His credibility suffers when he refers to the 633 being named after "the dam buster" squadron, however. And he misses opportunities to expand on the development of a character's infidelity in Pandora's Box. Smith attempts Suzy Wong scenarios at the Old China Hand in The Lady, and at Neptune's II in Sunday Surprise, but he omits the chaos of Big Apple's dancefloor, skirts the alcoves of La Bamba, and stereotypes Filipinas with a lost hair clip in You Can't Have it All.

Smith hooks readers when he describes the mateship and paraphernalia of fishing off the Lema Islands in Gun Boat Diplomacy, Mickey Mouse and The Contraband Circus, but he could have given a peep at those visitors' antics aboard in Don't Ever Invite the Irish.

Ask No Questions is predictable, the restraint of Gentlemen for Hire is dated, and Smith's testament to gambling tycoons, Winners in the Shadows, needs harsh editing. Still, this book is a worthy contribution to the Hong Kong police genre.

It is a valuable, unpretentious and, at times, entertaining start into holiday reading for a local writer who is finding his niche.

Many of In the Shadow's plots could have been woven into one super novel, but there are enough ideas in this compilation to encourage the author to bash out two or three more Hong Kong police books.