The King of Macau by Jake Needham


King of Macau is the fourth and final novel in the Jack Shepherd series. Jack’s life and career have been completely destroyed and he is clearly trying to piece something of a meaningful existence out of the ashes. He ends in Macau and gets pulled into yet another messy situation beyond his control or understanding.

Someone is laundering money through the casinos of Macau through a technique known as “smurfing” (line 1098) in which many people launder relatively small amounts of cash through the casino. Triads? North Korean agents? Strange hints abound.

Mr. Needham always throws in some great cultural observation that can only come from boots on the ground experience as an expat. Line 839: “Nobody [jogged] in Macau, except for a few crazy Americans…”. I have observed this as well and wondered why Westerners are far more likely to exercise for fitness and fun than most Chinese people. I have certainly seen Japanese people jogging and doing other forms of exercise, but it seems like a regular joke that Chinese typically don’t exercise or put forth any effort save for business and at the dinner table (well, maybe in the bedroom as well).

Another great line at 881: “the truth was [Asians] do look a little but alike, but I wouldn’t be caught dead uttering that old racist-sounding canard”. Yes, the old “they all look the same to me” routine. Funny thing is that many Japanese people think that all white people look the same. Touche, I suppose. I really don’t see that as racist per se, but rather stemming from a lack of experience or interest. And I suppose I am making too much out of one line in a novel. But that’s me.

Half a spoiler alert: one character is a North Korean who is seeking asylum in the US and wants to retire in Hawaii. Strange choice, but I can imagine that to someone in North Korea, Hawaii would appear as a paradise. Heck, I have never been there; maybe it is a paradise.

Last point: I have never had much interest in visiting Macau before reading this novel. Now I am dreaming of the place. The Las Vegas of Asia filled with Chinese gamblers and North Korean spies. Book the tickets, hon!

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