Category Archives: Asian noir

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

MIFF 2013 progress report #1: Manila in the Claws of Light & Monsoon Shootout

ManilaA couple of weeks ago I posted on the films I was planning to check out as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Yesterday I ticked off my first two choices, the Indian noir Monsoon Shootout and Manila in the Claws of Light.

First up, Manila in the Claws of Light (or as it is otherwise known as, The Nail of Brightness). This 1975 film is considered one of the classics of Philippines cinema. I’d heard a lot about and I wasn’t disappointed.

Julio (Bembol Rocco) is a young man who leaves his idyllic life in a small rural fishing town and travels to Manila to find his childhood sweetheart, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has been trafficked into the city’s sex trade. Finding himself flat broke after he is mugged, he has no choice but to take a job working on a high-rise construction site.

The conditions are brutal, he sleeps in a wooden shack next to the half finished building, and workplace deaths are common. He also has to deal with the foreman, who regularly rips the workers off for a portion of their wages and sacks anyone who complains.

He eventually loses that job and ends up homeless on Manila’s streets, where he skirmishes with criminal gangs and meets a male prostitute who tries to induct him into the world of sex work.… Read more

Book review: Kuala Lumpur noir

KL NoirIf you need further proof there’s no better vehicle than crime fiction for shining a light into the crevices and cracks of society the powers in control don’t want you to see, check out a new anthology called KL Noir.

That’s KL as in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

Kuala Lumper may not seem like the most obvious place to set an anthology of noir fiction. On the surface, at least, it has a reputation as an orderly, well behaved city.

But if this book is anything to go by, a lot is going on under the surface.

KL is a city crawling with horrendously exploited migrant workers and angry ghosts, a place where breakneck economic development and rampant consumerism has left many of its citizens with no other social outlet than wandering shopping malls, and which is governed by a highly authoritarian ruling party that has clung to power for over half a century.

How Asian writers interpret crime fiction in general, and noir narratives in particular, fascinates me. KL Noir is first of four volumes about the city’s dark side by independent Malay publishing company Buku Fixi. I didn’t like every story in the collection, par for the course for any anthology. But there are some great tales and, collectively, they’re a great insight into what noir means in this particular neck of the woods.… Read more

Fact and fiction in criminal case file 002

Ieng Sary Hearing 1

Late last week Ieng Sary aka criminal case file 002, former foreign minister for the charnel house known as the Khmer Rouge regime, died in Phnom Penh at the age of eighty seven.

One of five senior members of the Khmer Rouge being investigated by an international tribunal, Sary died denying he had any role in overseeing the death by starvation, torture and murder of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and early 1979.

Unfortunately, he escaped justice, dying before the tribunal could hand down its findings into his case.

Described in the charge sheet as ‘retired’, he lived peacefully in the former guerilla strong hold of Pailin until 2007, when an ageing Soviet-era chopper swooped down and police arrested and bundled him off to Phnom Penh.

For me, the news of the 87-year-old Sary’s death was very much a case of fact and fiction merging.  Sary’s defection from the Khmer Rouge in 1996 forms the historical backdrop of my crime novel set in Cambodia, Ghost Money.

Normally, I’d feel dreadful using someone’s death as an excuse to plug my book, but I’ll make an exception in Sary’s case.

I was just about to a stint as a journalist with one of the wire services in Phnom Penh, when news of Sary’s defection from the Khmer Rouge broke.… Read more

One Ashore in Singapore kicks off Beat to a Pulp’s 2013 schedule

t9045A quick heads up that my short story, ‘One Ashore in Singapore’ is kicking off Beat to a Pulp’s 2013 fiction schedule.

For readers, particularly in Australia, who are not familiar with Beat to a Pulp, it’s one of several sites in the US that regularly feature high quality short fiction.Other’s include Plots with GunsShotgun Honey and Noir Nation, just to name a few.

These sites are a great way for up and comers to cut their fiction teeth and establishing writers to feature their short fiction.

I’ve been wanting to crack a story in Beat to a Pulp for a while now, and I’m thrilled to have finally made it.

As the name suggests, ‘One Ashore in Singapore’ is set on Singapore and features my ex-Australian army now professional criminal, Gary Chance. It’s a down and dirty tale of false identities, double dealings and the challenges of finding late night accommodation.

You can read the story in full here.

Enjoy.… Read more