Merit Making, by R. T. Lawton, appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Lawton is a prolific author, with over 100 short story publications in various magazines and anthologies.
While this is a stand-alone story, it continues the tale of a young Chinese man struggling to stay alive while jousting with his elder half-brother for a position in the family opium smuggling business.
In Merit Making, a mysterious man stumbles into his father's mountain camp in Thailand, then dies while under the dubious care of the camp physician. The mystery unfolds reliably, because Lawton is skilled at setting out clues for his readers to follow through the plot to an ending, often with an unexpected twist.
What I enjoyed even more than the mystery was the character development. The narrator has been pulled from his private school in Hong Kong to join his half-brother "in this jungle world Father had thrust me into." For an outsider city-boy, he adjusts quickly.
His scout is a bit of a mystery as well, but is the one person the narrator trusts. Sort of. The scout seems to be guiding the narrator through the dangerous political manipulations of opium warlords during a Buddhist ceremony. By the end of the tale, the narrator has acquired merit, not just in the karmic sense, but in his scout's eyes as well.
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