Lawrence Osborne prices the cost of a fake death

Lawrence Osborne in Lapham's Quarterly:

ScreenHunter_1093 Mar. 19 18.47Years ago, while flying from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, I read what could be called a local novel by a Bangkok private investigator named Byron Bales. The Family Business was written with an entertainingly maniacal attention to detail and a world-weariness perfectly matched to its material: an American couple who plot to stage the husband’s death in Manila in order to claim insurance money back in the United States.

The British call this kind of faked death “doing a Reginald Perrin,” after a 1970s sitcom hero who stages his own suicide and then comes back to life to start all over again. The British, after all, can never forget government minister John Stonehouse, who disappeared on a Miami beach in 1974. Stonehouse was later found in Australia, using a forged passport under the name Clive Mildoon. It’s the ultimate travel experience: reincarnation in a distant place as an insurance scam. Insurance agents call it “pseudocide.”

Bales spent more than thirty years as an investigator, ten of them in Bangkok, tracking down people who had disappeared, faking their own deaths in order to dupe America’s gullible and often chaotic insurance companies (it’s an industry in decline, he insinuates). I learned from the back cover of The Family Business that it was based on several cases that Bales himself had investigated. So people really do disappear, I thought, and they really do collect the money.

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