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The Missing Thai Silk King: A Niece’s Search for Jim Thompson

By Martha Galleher
The Espionage Press, 219 pages, $25
Ivy Book Store/ 6080 Falls Road/ Baltimore, Maryland 21209
Reviewed by Dan Pinck

Pardon the patois: this is a swell book, a combination of history and mystery focused on an investigation of the disappearance in 1967 of Mrs. Galleher’s step-uncle, James H. W. Thompson, in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. As famous as he was mysterious, Jim Thompson served in the OSS and in the CIA and he lived in Bangkok since 1945. He founded the well-known Thai Silk Company which still exists; and he did not severe his ties with the CIA. He disappeared on Easter Sunday; only rumors survive about what might have happened to him.

His disappearance was reported in American newspapers. The FBI investigated his disappearance; there’s no assurance that the CIA ever undertook an investigation and this fact is probably the most curious aspect of the case. The Cameron Highlands is a hill-station north of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Small rewards were posted for information leading to answers about what had happened to him.

What happened to Jim Thompson? Was he eaten by a tiger? Was he kidnapped? Was he killed by Cambodians? Was he killed in a robbery by natives? Was he killed by Thai royalty? Was he on a secret mission for Thai royalty? Was he on a CIA mission? Was he killed by employees of his Thai Silk Company? Did he simply get lost in the jungle while out for a late-afternoon walk? Did the Viet Cong do him in? Was he killed by Pathet Lao? Was he killed by the Chinese in Vietnam? Was he a double agent? Was he on a secret mission to persuade Chinese Communists to stop supporting the Viet Cong?

Mrs. Galleher and her husband Earl made two visits to the Far East to try to unravel the mystery of her step-uncle’s disappearance. Their first trip was in 1968, the second in 1974. Their Touch-all-bases investigation was exemplary. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan could not have done a better job. During their search, they interviewed an international line-up of sources of information, from ambassadors, generals, intelligence operatives, high government officials in many countries, and U. S. congressman to inconspicuous natives in Asian nations. Result: zilch.

I suspect Mrs. Galleher might have been on a promising track when, two pages from the end of her book, she states: “Whatever his reasons, I believe Jim headed for China after he disappeared.” How did she reach this assumption and from whose office did it originate?

The answer is: I won’t tell you. Reviewers of mystery books properly do not tell readers cogent clues or answers to the mystery. The Main Man is surprising, I’ll tell you that. Could this be an unfounded rumor, too? Who knows?

Mrs. Galleher’s book is absorbing, with stretches of fine writing. The disappearance of James Harrison Wilson Thompson is compensated – if this is the right word – by the appearance of his niece’s book. An adroit scriptwriter and other highly competent professionals in Hollywood could produce a good movie about Mrs. Galleher’s adventures in the Far East.