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.
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:
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:
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.’
‘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 www.brycecourtenay.com.
The Australian Literature Review