cover image Ghosts of Manila

Ghosts of Manila

James Hamilton-Paterson, James Hamilton Paterson. Jonathan Cape, $22 (279pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16190-3

``The Spanish Inquisition taking place in a Dunkin' Donuts'' is how focal character John Prideaux, an Englishman and burned-out documentary director, encapsulates his impression of the Philippines in this novel-cum-travelogue about a Third World country run socially and economically amok. Assorted characters-including Prideaux, a slum seamstress, a marginally corrupt cop and two female archeologists-separately explore the ways of the dead in Manila (bodies turn up as finds in archeological digs, as dumped police victims, as casualties of construction accidents in the Marcoses' public works projects and as victims of simple random violence). These story elements converge in the novel's grotesque centerpiece, detailing a shantytown annexed to a cemetery where the dead are better cared for than the living, the locals claim to see vampires and a Chinese drug baroness operates from her family mausoleum. Throughout, Hamilton-Paterson proves himself an expert travel writer, scattering anecdotes and observations like seedy landmarks along his pages and offering an atmospherically rich portrait of the Philippines (where he lives part of the year). But his characters, though well drawn, get short shrift in this docufiction approach, popping up like periscopes to view the landscape from their assorted removes but then resubmerging into the background as the book's real protagonist-the chaos that is modern Manila-reclaims center stage. (Nov.)