Fortune Cookie, by Bryce Courtenay

Fortune CookieThe Power of OneThe Power of One (Puffin Young Readers S.)Tommo and HawkJessicaFour FiresThe Persimmon TreeFishing for Stars

Fortune Cookie follow’s Australian advertising executive Simon Koo who takes the job of Creative Director at a big Singapore ad agency. Narrated by Simon, the novel is a combination of insider account of working in a large advertising agency, meditation on Asian and Australian politics in the 1960s (including US involvement in Asia), exploration of heroin trade and sex trafficking in 1960s Singapore, with a love story weaved through.

You can watch the video trailer for Fortune Cookie here and a video interview with Bryce Courtenay on Fortune Cookie here.

The press release from Penguin sums it up with the following:

“Set in a city rapidly growing-up in the aftermath of World War II and amidst the political landscape of the escalating Vietnam War, Fortune Cookie is at once a sexy love story, a mystery of intrigue and adventure and a rollicking insight into the advertising game; whether it be for consumer product, national identity, or the trade in heroin and flesh.”

In Singapore, Simon deals with office politics:

P 85

Despite the asinine little lecture from Her Grace (my future name for her), I remained upbeat. Besides, if I agreed to go to Singapore, surely they’d be pleased. My confidence was slightly shaken when, at ten minutes past nine, her Grace called and said in a clipped voice, ‘Mr Koo, under no circumstances are you to leave your office until the chairman calls you… whenever that might be.’ For a moment I considered our relative rank in the agency and thought I probably didn’t have to take her crap, but decided to let it pass. ‘Kindly do not be late this time, Mr Koo.’ Her sharp tongue was plainly the result of years of practicing the art of being bloody difficult. I’ve noticed that some people take every opportunity to exercise their skill at getting under someone’s skin. Not me, not today, no way Jose. Today I’m bulletproof.

… local customs, and contemplates international political issues – mostly relating to ideas of capitalism and communism in various guises in 1960s Asia.

When Simon Koo arrives in Singapore, Mercy B. Lord is assigned to help familiarise him with the city. As the novel progresses, Simon and Mercy fall in love but Mercy has a big secret:

P 332-333

Here in Singapore I had a luxury flat where Mercy B. Lord would be totally at home, but she’d rejected it for reasons she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, explain.

I’d like to say I’d finally persuaded her to move in, but that was not the case. One evening she simply said, ‘Well, then, I suppose you’d like me to move in with you Simon?’

‘You serious?’ I asked, not sure she wasn’t pulling my leg.

‘There’s one condition.’


‘Thursday night.’

‘What about Thursday night?’

‘You have to promise never to mention it.’

‘You mean to someone else?’

‘No, between us – you must never bring it up.’

‘And that’s all?’

She looked up, holding my gaze. ’If you do, I’ll leave. Simple. No discussion.’

I nodded. ‘Just one more question: is what you’re doing on your night away safe?’


‘I really think you should leave that to me. I’ve been a big girl for some time now.’

When Mercy goes missing, Simon’s search for answers reveals large scale organised activities relating to drugs, sex, kidnapping and murder. Simon learns about Mercy’s past as well as the inner workings and side-effects of international politics in the region.

Fortune Cookie will no doubt attract mixed feelings over the politics covered in the story. It is best read as a fictional story and not as a tool for forming opinions about politics, keeping in mind that the ideas in the book are the opinions (based partly on fictional events and partly on real events) Bryce Courtenay has written for the fictional character Simon Koo. A reader should do some investigation of their own before arriving at their own informed opinions on political and historical events and issues covered in the novel.

Bryce Courtenay is well placed to use a large advertising agency as a setting. Before becoming a novelist he had worked as Creative Director of a large ad agency for many years, creating such well remembered campaigns as Louie the Fly and the Milky Bar Kid.


More on Bryce Courtenay and his fiction can be found at

Fortune CookieThe Power of OneThe Power of One (Puffin Young Readers S.)Tommo and HawkJessicaFour FiresThe Persimmon TreeFishing for Stars

The Australian Literature Review

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5 Responses to Fortune Cookie, by Bryce Courtenay

  1. Pingback: When the Power of One Meets the Will of Many, by Mihiri Udabage | The Australian Literature Review

  2. David Paull says:

    I have read almost all of Mr Courtenays works and, on the whole, found the storylines enjoyable and the backgrounds enlightening. However his latest book Fortune Cookie is the greatest load of waffle I’ve attempted to read. Honestly, reading the first 200 pages was less intriging than watching paint dry. I could only flick through the remaining pages before putting aside. When it becomes an effort for the reader to turn a page, it’s time for the author to hang up the quill. Sorry. Not a winner in my view. Again Mr Courtenay writes100 words to say what could be written in 10.

  3. Karen says:

    I’ve just finished listening to Bryce Courtenay’s Fortune Cookie as an audio book. David Paull’s comment about it being a “load of waffle” doesn’t begin to describe the tedium of ploughing through this novel. My early thoughts were “cliched” and “cheesey” but that rapidly moved to “downright corny” and quickly on to “pathetic”. Not only is the storyline bland and predictable, but there are so many inconsistencies it seems to have been written by a novice rather than a celebrated author. Perhaps it was the fact of being an audio book, with an orator who is definitely the answer to insomnia with his drone, but I don’t think the story would have been any more gripping had I read it rather than listen to it. This is the first Bryce Courtenay book I’ve read and will most certainly be the last. I listened right to the end in the eternal hope that it would start to deliver to the standard I had expected from such an experienced and lauded writer, but alas no. I respect and admire the fact Courtenay has made a very successful living out of his commercial writing, but with this work being an example of his talent, I’m damned if I know how he did it. I guess there’s hope for all of us!

  4. Rod Woods says:

    Just got round to reading this book. What great story set in an interesting time and place. I’ve read a few of Bryce Courtenay’s books and find them very informative, especially some of the political and historical antidotes. It was easy to skip through some of the long descriptions

    It would have been even more intriguing if it had been written in the third person. This would have allowed the reader to experience the excitement and interaction that was really going on with the Wing Bros, the CIA, police and the other players, who only come into the long winded story during the last 100 riveting pages.

    Presenting the story this way would not have taken anything away from the surprises and twists in the plot because they are printed on the inside front sleeve for all to read.

    Why was Mercy B Lord referred to all the way through by her full name, it became very annoying after a few pages ?

  5. Glenda Corniwll says:

    Totally agree with the above comments. I have read all novels by Bryce Courtenay and often find them too verbose, but mostly really great stories and well written. It took me an age to read Fortune Cookie hoping for it to improve but I would have to say it has to be the most boring book I have ever read!

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