Book review: The Trial of Maximo Bonga: The Story of the Strangest Guesthouse in South East Asia


Muddling real life and fictional adventure, this semi-autobiographical story of expatriate John Harris is a page-turning murder mystery set on the remote island of El Refugio.

Told in the first person, the adventure-seeking narrator embarks on a journey that takes him to a Philippine Island on the edge of civilisation. Reaching Maximo Bonga’s Guest House, he befriends World War Two veteran, Bonga, the eccentric owner of an even odder barrack-style guesthouse. When a young woman’s body is found on one of El Refugio’s remote beaches, the injudicious local police attempt to pin the murder on Bonga. In the distorted paradise that materialises, consisting of suspicious locals and oddball modern-world rejects, the protagonist sets out to defend the ex-soldier at a kangaroo court.

Written by the British author of the bestselling novel The Backpacker, John Harris writes for a second time about the rejection of Western drudgery, that he this time finds in Hong Kong. After 20 years travelling the world and a book under his belt, Harris writes a worthy who-dun-it thriller about friendship and one man’s quest for justice. While literary snobs will know the book is neither multi-dimensional, nor particularly complex, Harris does achieve to seamlessly meld his own experience with the fabricated to create a page-turning novel that makes the perfect easy-going holiday read. Emma Russell

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