William Tham Wai Liang’s Kings of Petaling Street is a standalone crime thriller.
Wong Kah Lok Syndicate’s power is waning, but it is still one of the most powerful gangs in Kuala Lumpur.
Gangster Wong has slowed of late. The heart went out of the aging criminal when his wife and oldest son died in an assassination attempt. Wong’s primary goal is now to see his remaining son, Gavin, settled in a respectable, safe occupation.
He shows poor judgment, then, in allowing the heir apparent to his gang, Crazy Foo, to mentor the impressionable Gavin.
His father’s influence with Chancellor Zahid won Gavin a spot in university, but that didn’t transform Gavin into anything like a capable student. His dismal grades ensure that Gavin will be expelled from the university; the only question is when. It does not help his marks at all that he is distracted by his passion for the very proper Danielle, whose family is very unlikely to approve of Gavin’s relations.
Gavin has also been seduced by Foo’s thrilling stories of gangster life. He joins Foo in a foolhardy raid on the stronghold of a rival gangster, Chang. Foo wants to retrieve a prisoner being held there, a hit man named Maut. Maut almost succeeded in assassinating Chang; Foo would like to recruit Maut for a second try at the elusive Chang, in hopes that Foo can thus prove his fitness to inherit Wong’s gangster empire.
Maut does succeed in killing Chang, but the consequences are disastrous for everyone involved. What follows is a brutal, city-wide gang war from which few will emerge alive.
In Foo’s defence, he is a cunning and efficient gangster. What he is not is versed in the wider city politics. The wheels fall off his plan because he has no idea that there might be people in KL eager to see an end to Wong and his Syndicate, people who are not strictly speaking criminals and are therefore off Foo’s radar. Foo does begin to sense there’s something very odd about how well the initial stages of his plan have worked … not that that helps anyone in Wong’s Syndicate, or in Chang’s gang for that matter.
As with so many crime thrillers, what could have been a simple, functional plan is derailed because it is not actually one simple plan. There are about six major agendas and many minor ones, all of them working at odds to one another. A number of people have convinced themselves it is time to tidy up old business; by the time Foo gets involved, the avalanche has already begun. Many of the goals people wish to achieve will be achieved, for what’s that worth. This is a crime thriller, so the odds that anyone will be happy with what they have wrought are very poor.
Liang’s novel would have been satisfactorily brutal enough on the strength of the main plot. Liang was not content to settle for a linear crime novel. Instead, he provides ample flashbacks detailing how the main players arrived where they are when we first meet them, and how it is each of them ended up people who would think what they were about to do was not just reasonable, but the only possible course of action. A cast of foolish thugs and careerists are transformed from self-serving monsters into something more sympathetic.
Kings of Petaling Street is available here (Amazon). It does not appear to be available from Chapters.
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