What lengths will a father go for the love of a daughter? Smoking Poppy explores this and other aspects of parenthood and self discovery in a suspenseful journey into a heart of darkness.
Danny is a very private guy, keeping the world at arm’s length. Recently separated from his wife of many years, he does not even realize that his annoying quiz teammate and snookers partner, Mick, is actually his best friend in the world. His insular world turns upside down with horrifying news from abroad.
Danny has been estranged from his daughter, Charlie, for the last couple of years as she finishes up a degree at Oxford. One day a call is received from the consulate in Thailand – the love of his life, the eye of his world has been arrested for drug smuggling and is facing a possible death sentence in a distant land. As soon as he can, Danny is on a plane to Thailand to save his little girl, accompanied by Mick (who was not invited) and his other estranged child – Phil the eldest and a literal elder in a fundamentalist Christian church. Things in Chiang Mai don’t go as planned, and the three men find themselves on a journey into the lawless borderlands where opium is king.
Told entirely through the eyes of Danny, the journey grows literally and metaphorically into one of self-discovery, revulsion, joy, and ultimately, healing. Whether they believe in a hell or not, Danny, Mick and Phil all experience it a visceral way as they are forced to confront the darkness they hold inside and the limits they are willing to go. It takes all three to free Charlie from the internal and external prison she is suffering in.
Smoking Poppy is a journey, as well as an adventure. The prose is tight, yet evocative, and at times intensely gripping. Motivations of the characters beyond Danny remain elusive, as we see the world only through his eyes. I was left wanting more, but realizing how that just couldn’t be.
Smoking Poppy is a well written expression of a father’s love and the endless limits of that love, in spite of his own shortcomings. It also functions well as a suspense thriller, and unfortunately would probably work well as Hollywood fodder. The powerfully realized novel has no obvious weakness, ranking 8 out of 10. While, it’s not really a genre book, it’s well worth reading for fans of any genre.