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A.I. Fabler
The Seed of Corruption
A.I. Fabler, author
It started as a mystery with the promise of romance ... A chance meeting of two strangers in a deserted French hotel in the Mekong Delta starts them on a journey in search of elusive truths, raising complex moral and ethical questions as their emerging love is tested by the corruption they’re forced to confront.
Fabler follows up AGENDA 2060: The Future as It Happens with a suspense novel tracing an elaborate art heist through the jungles of Vietnam. Anton Faraday, a British wildlife painter, is desperate to hunt down a forger who has recreated one of his signature pieces. He crosses paths with a freelance journalist, Caroline Brinkley who is searching for her adopted Vietnamese brother. In 2004, with the SARS epidemic rearing its ugly head, Anton and Caroline find themselves navigating an underbelly of corruption, leading Anton to confront, ultimately, the demons of his own past.

Fabler crafts an intriguing tale, edging more toward the literary than the suspenseful, with polished prose touched with poetry. Readers will appreciate the tensions that simmer between Anton and Caroline. Anton is a familiar fish-out-of-water hero whose philosophizing–snapping photos in country, he muses about how his “life’s journey had not begun when he was born; it would not begin until he consciously started it”–at times diminishes the narrative’s momentum. Faber tempers these musings with acerbic comments about contemporary art, which feel more natural: “I suppose if Damien Hirst can get a million pounds for a sliced pig in formaldehyde,” one character notes, “you could try a set of conjoined embryos in a womb of blood-red polycarbonate.”

Fabler makes clear throughout that his hero feels unmoored in Vietnam, sympathetic to the tragic history of it and neighboring Cambodia but overwhelmed by its foreignness. One early passage describes Vietnam as “infecting” Fabler and builds to this jolting declaration, evocative of Heart of Darkness: “The enigmatic face of Asia is often presumed to mask profundity, yet in his experiences to date, it only masked a single-minded pursuit of money.” The novel that follows challenges and interrogates that perspective, with engaging elements of suspense and incisive passages about the making and selling of art, though even deep into Faraday’s journey Fabler risks alienating readers with essentialist phrasing like “the absurd logic of madness that plagued Vietnam.”

Takeaway: This literary thriller sends a wildlife artist into Vietnam in search of a forger.

Great for fans of: Robert Owen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Marian Palaia’s The Given World.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A