Pattaya 24/7 by Christopher G. Moore Heaven Lake Press $110 The eighth novel in the Vince Calvino private investigator series is set in and around the Thai resort of Pattaya, 'a 24/7 freak show ... where a man can become a sugar daddy on a beer budget'. Bangkok-based Calvino is summoned to the luxury estate of old acquaintance Searles Valentine, an eccentric English concert pianist who maintains a herd of goats and a harem of young local women - or his 'creatures', as he calls them (the women, not the goats). His cosiness has been upset by the death of his head gardener, who has been found hanged in his room. The police say suicide, but the gardener's widow suspects murder. Valentine hires Calvino to investigate. The trail rapidly leads him to corruption, drugs, gangsters, gunmen, girlie bars, massage parlours and prostitution - pretty much an average day at the resort. Into this sea of sleaze comes Calvino's old friend and mentor, Colonel Pratt, a senior Thai police officer who's working with the US Secret Service in the war against terrorism. They're hunting a Jemaah Islamiah terrorist who entered Thailand with a dirty bomb to attack the Thai-US armed forces involved in the Cobra Gold joint exercises in Chon Buri province. The two investigations overlap, embroiling Calvino in both. The exciting but predictable final confrontation with the terrorist and his bomb takes place in one of the many unfinished empty high-rise shells that dot the Pattaya skyline, relics of the mid-1990s financial bust. The plot of Pattaya 24/7 is a bit of an empty shell, too, come to that. While believable and pacy, it's a strictly linear device, leading the reader around all the usual Thai settings - temples, bars, massage parlours - for local colour, before arriving at its destination, with few unexpected twists and turns. Calvino is a complex and engaging hero of the old school: tough and tenacious, flippantly funny, with an eye for the women, and sexist. The other characters are just as two-dimensional but more forgettable. That said, the plot is all too believable, set against the background of recent events in southern Thailand. The book is also peppered with references to diseases such as Sars and bird flu. However, another Thai epidemic - HIV/Aids - is conspicuously absent. Safe sex doesn't feature in Calvino's world. This is a curious omission, given that the book seems to be largely aimed at sex tourists to Thailand (author Christopher Moore has been known to sell his books in Bangkok's girlie bars). This might be the influence of Bernard Trink, a former columnist with the Bangkok Post who is noted for his long-standing denial that Aids can be contracted from prostitutes - or, to borrow Moore's description of bar girls, 'mobile teenaged CEOs with one product to sell'. Trink rather ambitiously likens Moore to Graham Greene in the cover blurb. But at least Moore seems to know Thailand and its people, having lived in Bangkok since 1988. The author, an Oxford University graduate and former law professor at the University of British Columbia, has written 16 novels. Cut Out won the 2004 German Critics Award for Crime Fiction (Deutscher Krimipreis), whose previous winners include Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and Joseph Wambaugh. While Moore may not quite be in this league, he claims to have sold about 100,000 books, which have been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, and Thai, without the backing of a major publisher.