Though the field of action and adventure is already full of great names, Garber seems set to make an impact on the scene. "In A Perfect State" is his third novel and makes a good case for the man's popularity.
The book begins with Jack Taft (real name John) - a senior executive at a big multinational technology company - going to Singapore. Tired with jet lag, he unknowingly takes a dangerous mixture of a sleeping pill with alcohol. This results in him being only conscious at his sub-conscious level and concerned about safety and food. In comes Chan Gin, the supercop of Singapore with a fetish for lines from hard-action American movies. The police have been tipped off about drugs concealed in Taft's new briefcase, gifted to him by his reporter girlfriend Gabrielle Dunn. While trying to apprehend Taft in his hotel room, things go wrong for Chan as he comes across local hoodlums and in the process, Taft (by now an automaton) runs away. Taft captures an airhostess from the flight he travelled on and suddenly he's the most wanted guy in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle sets about uncovering the truth back home along with one of the Directors from Taft's company. They are up against Denise Donald, Taft's underling and former lover, who hates Taft and wants his job. Also in the picture is Simon, Gabrielle's former lover and present boss. Back in Singapore, a manhunt is on for Taft, both by the police and by the gangsters, headed by Poh Kay Siong, the biggest bad guy around. There are a number of confrontations between Taft (aided by the air-hostess) and Chan, till finally Chan realises that Taft is innocent. Then comes the finale, set in both countries.
The plot is very simple and hackneyed, but Garber treats it a little differently and it comes across well. There are the standard characters - the innocent man on the run, the good cop with a mistaken notion, the devoted lover, the scheming villain. Sometimes the by-play between the characters is quite forced and incredulous, especially the over-reacting Chan. It is also difficult to believe that a middle-aged, pot-bellied executive could suddenly start blasting his way across town and evade the best trackers. But the pace of the book covers up these minor glitches.
The title of the book refers to the island nation and this is where the book is really good. The book takes us beyond the tourist facade to life in everyday Singapore, to the attitude inherent in the people, to the ridiculous laws and the tough standards they are set by, and finally to life in the city. These insights are truly excellent and are distracting enough to be remembered long after the book is over.
All in all, this is quite a good book, considering the jaded aspect of its genre. Watch out for more from the same author.This article was first published on 10 Aug 2000.