Review - Saigon Dark by Elka Ray
Lily is a single mum, living in Vietnam. She has two children – Dunc and little Evie, and a repeated dream about her ex-husband throwing her from the top of a Ferris wheel. Lily is also a doctor, a professional – a job in which the suppression of emotions is a positive pre-requisite.
And that is really what this taught, suffocating, brilliant novel from Elka Ray is about – suppression. And choices. Because life is all about choices.
So, what do we do when our life is ripped apart in a single moment of tragedy, through no fault of our own? Even then, we have choices. Lily has choices. Lily chooses.
The choice Lily makes has consequences – as all choices do. And as we follow Lily as the consequences of her choice unfolds, the sense of foreboding becomes almost unbearable. It became so real for me at one point, this impending terror, I had to physically force myself not to long down the page at what was to come.
Ray's prose is tight and utterly unforgiving. Here is the first paragraph:
'I'm woken by the sound of breaking glass. A woman screams. It's the neighbours, again. A boy - one of the older kids - yells, and a younger child starts to sob. I roll over. If only it would stop. Their youngest is smaller than my daughter.'
When I teach my students about writing in the first person, I say the aim is for the reader to feel exactly as the narrator feels. Ray achieves this, and more. I read most of this book feeling an elephant was sitting on my chest. Just great, great writing.
Otto Penzler once said ‘noir stories are bleak, existential, alienated, pessimistic tales about losers--people who are so morally challenged that they cannot help but bring about their own ruin’.
Lily may not be a ‘loser’ in the sense Penzler means, but she has suffered loss unimaginable. The remainder of the definition holds utterly true, making, in my mind, Saigon Dark a modern noir classic, and Elka Ray a name to watch for anyone who likes dark, psychological thrillers of the highest quality.
Saigon Dark is published by Crime Wave Press, and is available in the UK here:
And the US here: