Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from Thailand

Book review: Missing in Rangoon

Missing in RangoonFor well over twenty years Canadian lawyer turned crime writer Christopher G Moore has chronicled change in Thailand and the surrounding region through the character of Bangkok-based American private investigator, Vincent Calvino.

Moore has penned thirteen Calvino books. Most of them are set in Thailand, although Moore has also taken his character to Vietnam and Cambodia. In the latest instalment, Missing in Rangoon, Calvino heads to Burma or, as it is now officially known, Myanmar.

The opening pages find Calvino standing in the shell of the Lonesome Hawk Bar, one of the establishments that used to form part of Washington Square, a well known and down at heel part of expat Bangkok, recently demolished to make way for yet another of the condominiums that mark the city’s skyline. Calvino suggests to the former owner that he should consider starting over in Rangoon, a city on the make and welcoming all comers, much like Bangkok was decades ago.

Not that Calvino particularly wants to make the journey himself. He’s being pressured to travel to Burma by a disagreeable English brothel owner, who wants to hire him to find his son. The son has disappeared in country’s capital along with his Burmese girlfriend, a real head turner and the lead singer in the band the son plays in.… Read more

Book review: The Dying Beach

the-dying-beachThere’s two things I love having on this site – special guests and crime fiction set in Asia.

Today’s post has both. 

Crime writer Robert Gott was kind enough to drop by and review my partner Angela Savage’s wonderful new book, The Dying Beach.

Gott is the author of the William Power trilogy of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia: Good MurderA Thing of Blood, and Amongst the Dead. More recently, he also authored the crime novel The Holiday Murders, out now through Scribe Publications.

Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, the third novel in the series featuring Jayne Keeney, is a beautifully built book. Its parts slide together smoothly, with a satisfying, elegant ‘click’ of finely-tuned logic.

Apart from the working out of the whodunit component of the plot, The Dying Beach offers insights into Thai life and culture that go far beyond information gleaned from a Lonely Planet guidebook.

Savage knows this world well enough to negotiate the thousand subtle landmines a farang, or foreigner, might step on. It is fascinating watching what Savage calls, ‘the fraught dynamics of being a foreigner’, play out. Her private detective, Jayne Keeney, speaks fluent Thai which gives her, and by extension us, privileged access to the lives of the Thai people who inhabit the book.… Read more

Marking time in the City of Angels

Check InnI always find revisiting a city I’ve lived in after a long time away a bittersweet experience.

In the mid-nineties I spent nearly six years in South East Asia, with my partner Angela Savage, mainly working as a journalist. This included a year living in Bangkok, the abbreviated Thai name for which, Krung Thep, literally means “City of Angels”.

I also made countless trips to the city to transit to other places, for visa runs and R & R breaks. There was the time I got thrown out of Vietnam for something I’d written and had to cool my heels there for several weeks.  When my partner and I used to live in the Lao capital Vientiane we used to fly down specifically to buy English language fiction books.

Not that I ever needed much of a reason for a visit.

I loathed the Bangkok when I first visited it 1992, the pollution, the traffic and sheer, daunting bloody scale of the place. But when I left the region at the beginning of 1997, it was my favourite place. I loved the food, the people and the energy. I still like all these things, particularly the energy. New York? Bangkok’s the place that never sleeps unless it’s to grab a quick snooze on the back of a truck in slow moving traffic.… Read more

Writing noir fiction in Asia

Late last week in Phnom Penh a book was launched that I’m very proud to have a story in.

It’s called Phnom Penh Noir, an anthology of 14 noir stories set in Cambodia. Amongst the authors are Roland Joffe, the director whose credits include the 1984 film The Killing Fields, John Burdett, author of the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series and Christopher G Moore, who also edited the book. Interestingly, there’s also stories by Khmer and Thai authors.

If you’re looking for an interesting take on noir fiction, I’d urge you to check this book out.

I’ve noticed a bit of interest lately around the idea of setting noir crime fiction in Asia.

My debut novel Ghost Money is set in Cambodia the mid-nineties, the point at which the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency started to fragment and the country was torn by political instability. It’s been out for several months now and nearly everyone who has reviewed it has labelled it noir fiction. Which is very fine with me.  As I noted in my last post, some have even dubbed it Asian noir, which sounds even cooler. 

Ghost Money is the story of a disillusioned Vietnamese Australian ex-cop called Max Quinlan, who is hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery, missing in the chaos.… Read more

Melbourne International Film Festival: progress report

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the crime movies I was going to catch at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Nearly half way through, here’s my progress report.

First, the bad news. Killer Joe, which I checked out last night. I’m very partial to cinematic tales of money, lust and murder set in the underbelly of rural small town life. Throw in a corrupt lawman who moonlights as a pimp/pusher/contract killer, whatever, and as far as I’m concerned you’re on a winning formula. No matter how many turkeys he’s made, I’ve also got a major reserve of goodwill towards the director, William Friedkin for To Live and Die in LA (1985) and The French Connection (1971).

Killer Joes has all the signposts associated with this sort of movie, down at heel locations, sleazy sex and a criminal plot that quickly spirals out of control. But none of this makes up for the poor performances and a scarcely believable story line.

A small town cop cum contract killer (Matthew McConaughey) is hired by a white trash Texan family to murder their mother for the insurance money. The key conspirator, Chis (Emile Hirsch), scarcely has the brains to tie his own shoelaces let alone instigate a murder plot. When he can’t pay his would be assassin up front as expected, Joe takes Chris’s sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as collateral and seduces her.… Read more