Book review: the return of Val Benson in Jame DiBiasio's Cowgirl X
Hong Kong author's follow-up to Gaijin Cowgirl suffers from being overplotted and poorly edited
Hong Kong-based Jame DiBiasio is an award-winning journalist at Haymarket Financial Media. In 2013, he authored the critically acclaimed tourist guide, The Story of Angkor, and then wrote his first fiction, Gaijin Cowgirl, the enthusiastically reviewed thriller vehicle for his heroine, Val Benson.
She returns in Cowgirl X, an overly long, often convoluted quest novel that nevertheless proves DiBiasio can think up a plot, choreograph a fight, and produce a titillating cover. This 308-page sequel begins badly in California, however, because DiBiasio rushes new readers' introductions to Benson's character, thereby reducing the physically and emotionally scarred blonde to little more than a virtual fantasy figure.
Benson often seems decorative in this forgettable, sporadically edited yarn about the recovery of an ancient Cambodian sword. A more attentive publisher might have increasingly emphasised her character to fulfil Cowgirl X's promise as a grrrl-on-top, shoot-em-up, pan-Pacific romp, but DiBiasio has been allowed to cramp her "brand development" with too many subplots. As the author revs his quest, Benson often seems lost in a colourful, if guffaw-inducing, cast of limb-shearing Japanese heavies; several bullet-riddled Thai or Cambodian goons; a Navajo American with an unnecessary, dialogue-delaying stutter; and two Japanese porn stars with a lesbian history.
DiBiasio peeps at porn but scrimps on its sex, and reduces the red-light depravity of Bangkok to demure travelogue. The author relates a supporting character's wistful thoughts of "the sparks of their breasts pressing against each other", but that's as far as the sex goes until a strap-on dildo looms in Poipet.
DiBiasio also tries too hard with his text, often bulking his plot with detail such as "the elevator doors parted and they stepped in". The author labours his language.
As a result, Cowgirl X often reads like an earnest second draft that undersells Val Benson's potential. His plots can be hard work.
Cowgirl X by Jame DiBiasio (Crime Wave Press)