Dorothy Gilman’s Incident at Badamya is a regulation thriller in an unexpected locale–Burma in the nineteen forties. Asia might be a ho-hum setting right now, but Incident… was written back in 1989, when much of the Western Hemisphere wasn’t quite sure (and didn’t need to care) where exactly China, let alone Burma, was located on the globe.
Gilman specializes in cozy mysteries that entertain without ever pretending to depth, and this novel plays to her strengths. Sixteen-year-old Genevieve Ferris is the daughter of a missionary in Burma who’s lost his religion. Upon his death, she decides to go back to her father’s native America–alone. Although Gen is alarmingly self-sufficient and preternaturally wise, she is captured by the Red Flag army, and is held prisoner with a motley crew of foreigners. The prisoners’ plot to escape forms the central tension of the story.
A tad predictable, perhaps, but no less enjoyable for it, Incident…is a nice easy read. I’ve come to appreciate books like this more and more–they don’t try to change the world or impress the reader with linguistic flourishes, but are content to let the reader escape for a while– without ever dumbing their content down to mere escapism. I won’t reread this one, but when I see it in the library, it’ll make me smile in remembered pleasure. And that’s more than I can say about a lot of books I’ve read.