By Tom Vater – published by Crimewave Press, 2012
A bunch of hippies, a rattler of a bus and the adventure of a lifetime along freely open South Asian land borders in the mid 70s are the base ingredients of “The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu”, Tom Vater’s first novel, originally released in 2006 and newly available now. Add and blend in a scary amount of drug abuse, corrupted border officials and a drug smuggling deal gone bad in the Pakistani mountains of the Swat valley, and you can complete this lethal Molotov cocktail of a book. To my knowledge, one of the few pulp adventures set in the Hippy Trail’s background, if not the first.
The plot is precisely knit as a handmade, intricate Kashmiri carpet: the events unfold between a lysergic trippin’ past in 1976 and present day Kathmandu, where the surviving units of the wild bunch have reunited to piece together the last fragments of a puzzle scattered across much more than just time.
When a mysterious email lands in Dan’s inbox, a story which may have stayed buried under the Himalayan snows comes back to life, rippin’ and taking hostages like a terrorist attack. And it is rendezvous’ time, adding young Robbie, Dan’s son who finds himself in Kathmandu at the same time, looking for his own version of Asia. The plethora of gangsters, guns, women and holy men coming in the middle will just help to make it a dangerous one.
Tom Vater, travel writer and expert of the region, mixes a fondness for Asian travel with a deep appreciation for noir and crime fiction, painting a vivid portrait of a Thamel-haunted Kathmandu and its dwellers. If you ever visited the Nepali capital, you may easily get lost in the abounding topographic details scattered all over the novel. Its characters get slowly uncovered, pieced together with 25 years old tape, showing that for some not much has changed between now and then. Inevitably, the gathering becomes housekeeping time for restless souls and bank accounts, respectively.
“The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu” successfully depicts an odd world of lawless Western abuse against the magical backdrop of Asia’s southern roads; at the end, it is difficult to discern who plays worst between strung-out travelers and strange locals. One thing is certain, tough: it is a ride you won’t likely put down until this book is finished. A noteworthy addition to your travel literature.