Having reported on and helped to break up a child sex ring, reporter Dave Bell returns to Cambodia when his friend Kummy contacts him about the disappearance and murders of nearly 20 children. Dave and Kummy put together a team to track down the ringleaders of this new and terrifying gang of pedophiles. They draw on an expert hacker, a Brigadier General, and what trustworthy politicians and police they can find to race to save a kidnapped child from a horrible death.

Theme of the Book

Angkor Tears covers a difficult and harrowing subject: the exploitation of children for sex. The author describes a part of Cambodia that is far from the usual tourist brochures. But amid the exploiters there are the dedicated few who work to end a horrible practice. It is working together and contributing selflessly that is the lesson of the story.

What I Liked About the Story

Mr. Palmer has taken a truly horrific topic and treated it with honesty, with clarity, and with a burning desire to see justice done. He has avoided the temptation many authors fall into and has avoided explicit scenes of sex and abuse, but has shown great dedication to the rescue of those children trapped in abusive situations. The main characters in Angkor Tears: Dave Bell, a British journalist; Kummy, a Cambodian woman who is head of an NGO; and Brigadier General Chamreun of the Cambodian army are all dedicated, selfless individuals. They work to save the children and punish the perpetrators with no thought of the cost to themselves.

Angkor Tears is told from the points of view of these three characters plus that of Zed, an expert hacker. With the support of the US embassy and of the Cambodian Minister of the Interior, the team follows tiny clues in a fast-paced, action-packed story. There is one shocking event (which I will not reveal) that brings the team even closer together and more determined to solve the mystery. The tension builds throughout the novel so that the reader is reluctant to put the book down.

It is obvious that Mr. Palmer has a deep love for the country and people of Cambodia. Loving a place does not mean seeing it through rose colored glasses but seeing it as it is and accepting it. In the book the reader will find both the dedicated characters of Dave, Kummy and Chemreun, but also the venal and corrupt elements in business, the police, and the government. Mr. Palmer does not try to sugar coat the problems faced by the average Cambodian but does seem to predict a brighter future for the country.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

Many writing courses insist that authors ‘show and not tell’ their readers what is happening. One thing that this reader found less than satisfying was the long speeches some characters made, all saying essentially the same thing: Cambodia’s future is in its children who must be protected and those who abuse children must be stopped. This is what the entire book is about and it really isn’t necessary to hear the same thing from each character.

The villains in Angkor Tears were not developed at all. One corrupt official gives a reason for his participation in the crime but his reason doesn’t seem particularly believable considering the seriousness of what is happening. The ringleader of the gang of pedophiles is never mentioned until the end of the book. Who is he and why has he done what he has done? I would have appreciated more depth of development of the antagonists.

Final Say

Most readers should be aware of the horrors of human trafficking and especially of the child sex trade. Mr. Palmer has made the victims real people instead of just statistics and for this he should be applauded. Angkor Tears is, in sections, difficult to read but it is certainly worth reading.

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