John Givens was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, studied art and language in Kyoto, and worked in Tokyo as a writer and editor. Givens also worked as creative director for digital design studios in NYC and San Francisco. Givens has published three novels: Sons of the Pioneers, A Friend in the Police, and Living Alone. A short story collection, The Plum Rains, was published in Ireland last year. Givens’ short stories have appeared in Kyoto Journal, Mississippi Review, Necessary Fiction, Wag’s Revue, Word Riot, Drunken Boat, Eclectica, Cerise Press, Asia Literary Review, and other journals. Givens’ non-fiction includes Irish Walled Towns, as well as essays and book reviews. Givens lives out on the wet and windy Howth peninsula north of Dublin Bay and teaches fiction writing at the Irish Writers’ Centre.

A Friend in The Police

A Novel by John Givens

Introduction by Véronique Vienne



A middle-aged American businessman arrives in an unnamed Southeast Asian country to retrieve his wayward son. George Bates finds himself confronted by a climate and culture more bizarre than he could have anticipated, and by the mysterious Detective Sergeant Xlong, whose own background is even more tangled than the American’s—and whose fecund language reflects the lush ambiguity of the tropical rain forest. Bates is soon lost in a complex, hallucinatory world that resembles a rewrite of The Heart of Darkness by Franz Kafka.

A Friend in the Police is often spoken of by veteran authors as the book they wish they had written. Newly revised by the author, this Concord ePress ebook is the first widely available edition of an admired cult novel.


“A Friend in the Police suggests a parody of Conrad and Graham 
Greene by Nathanael West: it’s an exhilarating novel, an important 
satire, a comic vision phrased in energetic and constantly surprising prose.”
– John Hawkes

“Somehow, John Givens moves from Waugh’s world to Conrad’s. 
That he could do so without visibly changing gears, or without 
forsaking his highly charged language, seems to me a very neat trick indeed.”
– Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

“The jungles of Southeast Asia, sleazy bars filled with B-girls, and 
Communist guerrillas form the backdrop of John Givens’s A Friend in the Police. Givens … evokes a fresh and powerful sense of the character of the place and its people.”
John Thomas Stovall, Chicago Tribune



A Crime?

By Véronique Vienne

The fictional characters of John Givens’ novel are real, as real as if they were lined up in front of you. The veracity of mundane details brings them vividly into focus. What will become less clear are their motives and the reasons for their actions, as alternative explanations bloom with startling fecundity. If before you reach the bottom of the first page, you are hooked by a unique narrative voice, as complications accumulate—or fail to do so—you become a willing victim in a bizarre police investigation that struggles to solve a crime which may, in fact, not exist.

George Bates, an American businessman trying to preserve a status quo that no longer exists, has come in search of his errant son. Philip seems to have become involved with the kind of unsavory ex-pat often found skulking in the backwaters of Southeast Asian cities. But this rescue mission is soon hijacked by Detective Sergeant Xlong, a local policeman who combines the pleasures of musing on the nature of authenticity with that of maintaining automatic weapons in a tropical climate, and whose own family is part of the problem.

Marcel Proust admired novelists for their ability to make us experience situations we could never have encountered in ordinary life. He believed that the images a writer creates could stir up emotions and sensations as authentic as those generated by actual conversations or events. In his own prose, he depicted fictional memories with such accuracy that they became universal truths. This is also the case with John Givens. He takes readers into the savage heart of the tropical jungle, driving A Friend in the Police forward not with lavish descriptions or Orientalist exoticisms, but with stark observations so convincing you can smell them.

Language is what truly moves the plot. Here words stimulate synapses directly. Your brain becomes the prime witness of a disconcerting inquiry that challenges your ability to suspend disbelief even while inviting you to do so. As Detective Sergeant Xlong reminds himself in a moment of doubt: “a willingness to accept patterns that appeared chaotic is one of the glories of the human condition.”

Paris, September 2011