“Book Review: Beasts of the Night”
Reviewed by Liam Anthony
An exhilarating novel that will captivate you and open your eyes to a social issue we don’t see enough in mystery fiction
Beasts of the Night by Matejs Kalns is a mystery novel with a difference. On the one hand, it focuses on the disappearance of Mei, who is feared to have been abducted from her orphanage. On the other hand, away from Mei’s story, it’s a story about the shocking reality of human trafficking.
The story follows security consultant Quinn, who met Mei years before her disappearance, and the reader is taken on a journey to find the child. Quinn travels from Cambodia to Thailand and eventually to Egypt, following the leads of the enigmatic characters he meets throughout his search for Mei.
Author Matejs Kalns employs many effective tools for his storytelling. Firstly, Quinn as a protagonist is clear in his objective and personality. He is also an alcoholic, and we see this on plenty of occasions. Arguably, it is the convention writers can use to make their readers uncomfortable, to keep them second-guessing, and invite them to think that not all is what it seems. And in a mystery novel, this imperfect protagonist set-up is undeniably intriguing.
The story is often peppered with Mei’s letters, a poignant way for the reader to get to know her. As Mei is missing throughout the story, the reader is reminded of her voice and personality in a touching and honest way. The author explores the ideas of not only her missing story, but the loss of her innocence, the cruelty she must have suffered, the silencing of her voice. The letters keep her character alive in the rhythm of the story and hopeful for her return.
The novel flourishes because of its page-turning storyline, its ability to keep readers on their toes, but it is also written with a diligent eye for detail. The reader is taken to different places and the descriptions of travel consolidate the notion of what it must be like to be a victim of human trafficking. He documents the discomfort of air travel, the minutiae of waiting in the line at immigration at an airport terminal with care and precision: “Airports always made Quinn wonder what people would be capable of in times of real struggle, during strange bouts of reverie, one could almost make sense of it all–even accounting for man’s inhumanity to man.”
The vividness of the prose helps a thriving Bangkok come to live. I felt as though I was part of the city, and I could feel the humidity of a Bangkok night vicariously through Quinn. The author is uninhibited, and through Quinn, he presents to his reader the perils of Bangkok’s underworld and the wanton disregard many men have toward these individuals. It’s difficult to tackle topics like these with grace, knowledge, and honesty, but Kalns nails it. Beasts of the Night would be a great choice for those looking to devour a smart mystery.
Publisher: Friesen Press
Paperback: 426 pages
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