I’m not sure why, but most contemporary crime fiction coming out of Thailand appears to be done by the country’s large male expatriate community.
There are exceptions, including my partner Angela Savage’s female PI Jane Keeney, and Thailand based publishing house Heaven Lake Press has just released the first ever anthology of Bangkok noir, which includes Thai as well as Western writers.
The doyen of expatriate crime writers in Thailand is Christopher G Moore, a Canadian who since the early nineties has been writing books featuring the Bangkok-based Italian American private investigator Vincent Calvino. Moore has written 12 Calvino books. Most are set in Thailand, but Moore has also taken Calvino to Vietnam (Comfort Zone) and Cambodia (Zero Hour in Phnom Penh).
The Calvino books have been published in many languages across the world, and have also influenced other local expats in Thailand to try their hand at crime fiction, to the point where it’s become virtually a genre on its on.
The last English language bookshop in Thailand I ventured into (admittedly two years ago) had several shelves full of the stuff. A lot of it appeared to be self-published and from what I can remember of a quick scan of the back covers had plots that predominantly focused on Westerners who land in Bangkok, pick up a bar girl and wake up the next morning to find their paramour dead, missing, or that she holds some dark dangerous secret that necessitates a journey through the underbelly of Bangkok.
The fact that it does not travel this familiar plot trajectory, is one of the things that makes Derek Lantin’s 2010 Come Here and I’ll Show You a cut above a lot of the fiction that come from the pens of foreign writers in Thailand.
Come Here and I’ll Show You is somewhat hard to classify. The best I description I could come up with is it’s what you’d expect if Our Man Flint met Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in a Bangkok bar and decided to write a pulp crime story.
The main character, Edwards, is a hard drinking ex-Special Forces veteran of America’s secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, who owns a bar in Bangkok. Edwards knows his firearms, speaks Thai, Lao and Cambodian fluently and drives a Porsche (which must be hell given the Bangkok traffic). If the money’s right, he’ll also undertake difficult, dangerous jobs.
And the money seems right when a young woman turns up claiming to be the daughter of Edward’s long dead former commanding officer, and offers Edwards two hundred grand if he can locate her father’s lost will and other papers. Although suspicious, Edwards takes the job, partly because he’s curious and partly because half the fee is upfront.
With the help of his Thai offsiders, Kamala (the woman) and Prasert (a man), both of them ex-army rangers (everyone is an ex-something in this book), Edwards tracks down the members of his former commander’s unit. They are all Hmong, an ethnic hill tribe used by the Americans in Indochina as mercenaries against the communists.
The job takes them to the seedy town of Koh Kong on the Cambodian border with Thailand, to the jungle of northern Laos to hook up with a warlord engaged in a guerrilla war with the Lao army and its Vietnamese backers.
The balance between successful homage and pastiche in terms of crime fiction can be hard to strike and Come Here and I’ll Show You is not without its problems. At times the hard-boiled style feels a bit over done. The book could also have benefited from a bit more showing and bit less telling in terms of the plot.
That said, the book contains good, solid, well written action. But it’s greatest strength is resisting the temptation to locate the story only in the expat haunts of Bangkok.
I reckon Lantin must have made some good primary sources because there are some interesting insights into parts of the region we don’t hear much about in terms of crime fiction. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out.