This book came to my attention via a much trusted source, a book group on Facebook comprising many respected like minds who all share an interest in Hong Kong. I'm very pleased it did as it could otherwise easily have passed me by.
Chris Thrall's story is far, far from the usual rose-tinted, expat perspective of Hong Kong life. He depicts a Hong Kong many visitors never see, nor even dream might exist - the world behind the bar in Wanchai, the underworld of the omnipotent Triads and the tragic world of the desperate addict. That addict was Chris himself, enslaved within mere weeks to the potent mistress which is crystal methamphetamine. His memoir graphically charts his descent to the rock bottom of this addiction during his 13 month sojourn in Hong Kong.
There were more than a few occasions when I longed for a rather firmer editorial hand on this narrative. Nevertheless, there is no doubt whatsoever that Thrall can write, powerfully and evocatively. There were scores of scenes when I found myself catapulted straight to the noisy, pungent market stall in Mong Kok or the neon-bright canyon of the red light district he was describing. I often marvelled that he was able to remember and reconjure quite so much painterly detail, given that he seemed to be high on drugs for so much of his time there.
He also evokes brilliantly the mad, gold rush atmosphere of those last few years before the Handover in 1997, when legions of gweilos headed for Hong Kong, in the hope of making a fast buck or two. That was Thrall's original ambition. Sadly, the addiction put paid to his dreams of making his millions in the Orient.
Thrall is a former Royal Marine and this book may well appeal rather more to male readers than to wimpy girls like myself. Towards the end, I found myself tiring a little of the details of the drug-induced paranoia and wishing for rather more fascinating vignettes, such as his short spell as a DJ in a mega-club on the Chinese mainland, or his even shorter experience as an English teacher at a Chinese primary school. For me, these were the scenes in which the quality of Thrall's writing really stood out.
Still, the book accurately reflects its graphic sub-title and as such, is a sober and cautionary tale. I would also have appreciated perhaps a little more in the way of an epilogue, giving a few more details of Thrall's eventual recovery. That he managed to recover is testament to an extraordinary strength of character. I look forward to reading more of his writing.