The War on drugs

Drugs are a trillion-dollar business and the so-called War on Drugs is under-financed. So much is paid to the powers that be to turn a blind eye that those who fight the good fight deserve the credit they get when busting a drug ring.

The Postmistress of Nong Kha, by Freank Hurst.

Infiltrating a drug ring is dangerous in the extreme, torture and death the consequences for those caught. Brit Frank Hurst was such an agent for four decades and lived to tell about it. Retired now, he pens books vividly describing his experiences, with a touch of fiction.

The Postmistress Of Nong Khai, set in London and Thailand, is his first novel. The year is 1988. Literary creation Mike Rawlin is based largely on the author. Highly professional, he does things Hurst presumably didn't do though probably trumpeted.

There's no love at home, with wife, daughter and other relations all taking one another for granted. On the job, his superiors are officious, political, grabbing undeserved credit, pointing fingers when operations don't go as planned.

Agents depend on informants, never shared. Mike's favourite is Lek, a beautiful Thai Airways stewardess. It's a complex relationship. Her boyfriend is Dutch drug lord Bart Vanderpool, whom Mike has been after for years. She is willing to help Mike take down his organisation, but makes him promise not to harm Bart.

Mike gives his word, aware that Bart's safety isn't entirely up to him, and he becomes infatuated with her. Lek now has two lovers. Mike is willing to toss aside his family and career for her. In a thrilling river chase, the equivalent of the Coast Guard blows up the drug-laden speedboat.

The penultimate chapter has us wondering whether Bart survived. And If so, which lover gets the girl?

If you want to know how the "War on Drugs" is actually conducted, you can't do better than read Frank Hurst. And at 343 pages, there's no padding.

As the Romans did

Empires rise and fall, and are replaced by empires that rise and fall. How they -- we -- have gone about it holds fascination among a good many scholars who tirelessly research the archives in dead languages.

Blood and Steel: Throne of the Caesars, by Harry Sidebottom.

Few people could care less. Fewer still remember the names of personages of the time dredged up by historians. Arguably, we're more intelligent and cultured when we know who did what thousands of years ago. And then there were the close calls, when empires were on the verge of falling but managed to survive a while longer.

Rome went through three major stages during its millennium-long existence. We pat ourselves on the back for being able to name two of its primary historical figures: Julius Caesar, a soldier murdered for some reason or other, and Nero, a musically inclined emperor who played the fiddle while Rome burned.

Reading histories, however informative, can be boring. Aware of this, historians spend years accumulating enough information to present events in narrative form. Their challenge is to make them as interesting as novelists can.

Some are more successful at this than others. Take Oxford University Professor of Antiquities Harry Sidebottom, whose speciality is Ancient Rome.

For his subject this time -- in Blood And Steel: Throne Of The Caesars -- the professor has chosen an obscure event from 238 AD, an attempted coup d'etat. The Gordias family, father and son, mean to displace the current ruler, sure they can do better. Each side lines up support.

The ensuing battle is vividly described, legionaries on both sides. A lot of the losers commit suicide rather than become prisoners. We are given titbits on the Romans who killed themselves and how they did it. Historical notes and a glossary fill the latter pages. History buffs will go for it.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer