The Noble Path

Image of The Noble Path: The explosive standalone crime thriller from the author of The Lewis Trilogy
Release Date: 
August 29, 2019
Reviewed by: 

“Peter May creates a novel of danger, of the vicious acts of men capable of almost anything, but at the same time, a story of the unconscious search for self-redemption.”

The Noble Path is reissue of a 1991 thriller that chronicles in eloquent prose the savage genocide orchestrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Peter May’s lush descriptive narrative of Cambodia’s tropical beauty is a shocking contrast to the detailed mural of man’s capacity for cruelty.

Soldier of fortune and paid assassin Jack Elliot agrees to infiltrate Pot Pol’s Cambodia to rescue the family of a wealthy refugee, Ang Yuon. Through his long experience of dealing with unsavory men, Jack is aware that Ang’s character puts him in the category of unsavory—or worse.

“You’re a wealthy Cambodian, Mr. Ang—politician or businessman. Probably corrupt . . . Nobody ever got wealthy in Cambodia without being corrupt.”

Ang appears less insulted by Jack’s comments than he should be. He seems sincere in wanting to hire Jack to rescue his wife Serey, his 17-year-old daughter Ny, and his 12-year-old son Hau.

“Mistah Elliot, I will pay you half a million US dollars—everything I have left—if you will go into Cambodia and get them out.”

Ang’s family is indeed still alive, and living—if it could be called that—in a commune guarded by Khmer Rouge soldiers. His wife Serey considered herself dead “For that was how she saw her life under the Khmer Rouge.”

Serey and daughter Ny live in the same hut along with strangers, receiving enough food to keep them alive to work in the fields until finally exhaustion and starvation would kill them. Ny sneaks out each night to exchange her body for enough extra rations to stave off starvation.

“Serey feigned sleep, as she always did. Nothing was ever acknowledged between them. The shame would have been unbearable.”

Serey’s son, Hua, has been conscripted into a boy’s brigade of the Khmer Rouge. She sees him wearing the “red, chequered headscarf of the Khmer Rouge. Twelve years old and they had made him one of them.”

While Serey waits for death to bring her relief, halfway across the world 18-year-old Lisa Robinson finds her mother’s wedding album. In it she finds a picture of bride and groom, but it is the groom who holds her attention. It is a younger version of the stranger who came to her mother’s funeral the day before—but her mother always claimed Lisa’s father was dead.

Consulting her mother’s lawyer, Lisa is astonished to learn her father is alive and has been depositing money into a bank account. While not inheriting a fortune, Lisa still finds herself a rather wealthy young woman, wealthy enough to embark on a search for her father.

The contrast between naïve, sheltered Lisa, and Ny, who has seen some of the worst of which man is capable, is shocking. Nor are these the only contrasting pair of characters.

Jack and Ang are polar opposites in most respects. Ang abandons his family to the mercy of the Khmer Rouge while escaping to Cambodia himself with nary a scratch on his pampered body. Jack, on the other hand, makes sure his daughter is financially secure even though his ex-wife refuses to allow him to see her.

For Lisa the question that haunts her the most is whether her father was truly guilty of the massacre of innocents during a confrontation with the IRA while he was in the army, or did he accept blame because he was in command of the men who did the killing?

Lisa tracks down her father only to learn he is in Thailand. Like the sheltered girl who believes she can take care of herself, Lisa follows her father to Thailand. There she learns that naïve young English girls traveling by themselves are vulnerable to the predators who roam the streets of the Thai capitol.

Jack has already left Thailand with his two hired companions, one of whom he knows and one he doesn’t. Slattery is an Australian who wants—needs-- one more mission. He has terminal cancer and would rather die fighting than alone in some hospital.

McCue is a Vietnam vet, a tunnel rat during the war and a friend of Slattery. He stays in Thailand after the war and marries a Thai girl. He’s going on the mission for the money. He wants to go home to America and take his young son with him. He doesn’t mention taking his wife.

Jack admires McCue for risking his life to make sure his son has a chance for a life better than living in the slums of Thailand’s cities. Jack provides for his daughter; at least, he provides money. At his ex-wife’s funeral, when he first sees Lisa, he denies he feels guilty.

“He had no conscience, or if he had it had never offered him guidance, only pain, somewhere deep inside, buried away from public gaze.”

Jack, Slattery, and McCue visit the refugee camps in Thailand, interviewing those who will talk about recent events in Cambodia. Conditions are worse than Jack can imagine. Anyone who can read or write, or speak another language is murdered without hesitation. In a classless agrarian society the educated and intellectual are dangerous and must be eliminated. Even anyone wearing glasses is murdered. After all, he might need the glasses to read.

Tuk Than, arms dealer and all-around scumbag who is familiar with murder himself, sums up the circumstances in Cambodia. “Even the Chinese, who have backed Pol Pot from the start, are embarrassed by what has been happening since he took power.”

Jack and his companions undertake an arduous, dangerous journey to rescue a family for money, although the mission becomes more than that. Lisa undertakes an equally dangerous journey to find her father, to find the truth, but finds herself a captive needing rescue.

Peter May creates a novel of danger, of the vicious acts of men capable of almost anything, but at the same time, a story of the unconscious search for self-redemption. The descriptive narrative is incredible; one can almost feel humid heat of the jungle damping your shirt past the point of saturation.

The Noble Path is stunning, shocking, almost unbelievable. Peter May pulls out all the stops to put the reader in the Cambodian jungle, the villages, and cities, even when we would rather not go. Highly recommended.