My location Suvarnabhumi airport departure lounge Bangkok and my destination Heathrow airport London. This was nothing new and I really can’t remember the amount of times that I had made this journey back and forth, but it’s an awful lot. However there was one thing that was always certain I am always a lot happier on the London to Bangkok route than I am on the Bangkok to London route. As my old friend depression started to kick in I realised I had 6oo Thai baht left burning a hole in my pocket. Should I get something to eat and drink and see the currency off that way or should I visit the book shop and find a book to ease my depression. You see when I leave Thailand it appears that Thailand seldom leaves me and I need a fix to contain this.
I decided it was more the soul than the stomach that needed nourishing and made my way to the Asian fiction section of the book shop. I had a craving to be dumped in to the land of Asian fantasy by a magical author who knew me well. And do you know there is always an author out there who knows you well. Your job is to find him or her.
The first Thai related novel I ever read was ” A woman of Bangkok” by Jack Reynolds, but the first Asian based novel was ”The World of Suzy Wong” by Richard Mason, these were my introductory books to the Orient and that was before ever setting foot inside of Thailand. I must admit to nowadays buying more books in Thai script than English. Reason one for this is to enhance my Thai language ability and two is to open further cultural doors that might normally be otherwise closed off.
Although the first two books whetted the appetite it was not until 1986 on reading the novel in Bangkok ”Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet” by Nick Noye that I became a massive fan of Asian based fiction, especially Thailand. This book turned me in to an Asian fiction junkie. After that the lion’s share of books on my shelves from any Asian based fiction author was from the work of Christopher G. Moore. In my time of travelling back and forth to Thailand over the last 25 years it has been his name that I have consistently seen on the Bangkok book shelves and in fact bookshops all over Thailand. So it was no surprise that the book I selected was edited by Christopher G. Moore, set in Bangkok and called ‘Bangkok Noir”.
I sometimes feel I maybe out there on my own, but I am a massive fan of short stories. I love the fact that I can pick up a book, start any chapter and by the completion of that chapter have a story under my belt. Often my time is limited like most people these day’s and short stories suit me down to the ground. Not only is Bangkok Noir full of short stories, but you have 12 different internationally known Thai and Western authors who each pen a short story. Some of the authors I knew of and some I did not. The authors I did know produced the usual quality that they are renowned for. As for the authors I did not know, it left me wondering just what else I had missed as they were all excellent. The thing I loved the most about the book was the different writing styles of the authors.
On the plane no sooner had I taken my seat than I was straight in to the Christopher G. Moore introduction. He was informing me that I was about to meet some dodgy lawyers, corrupt cops, transsexuals, minor wives, killers and ghosts to name but a few. Bring it on (as the saying goes), I thought to myself.
What Will You Find In Bangkok Noir
Gone East by John Burdett
In the first story alone I was transfixed and in the fantasy world I wanted to be in. There is nothing like a secret diary to kick the fantasy world off and one that advises you to travel east is even better. Follow this up with a family who want pay back for the high role in society they have carved out for you, add in some corrupt dealings and of course a sexy and passionate mistress and you have my undivided attention. Finish the story with ancient Khmer script, magical incantations, a shrine, a missing paragraph from the diaries, a life threatening disease followed by the final sadness and guilt and my mind was blown. I don’t even think we have taken off for London yet.
Inspector Zhang and the Dead Thai Gangster by Stephen Leather
Straight in to the next story where the brilliant inspector Zhang is called upon to solve a murder on a flight from Singapore to Thailand. A brilliant murder mystery where a man dies after being shot in the chest. The problem is that nobody hears anything or see’s anything and there is no gun to be found. Over to Inspector Zhang to solve the mystery.
Thousand and One Nights by Pico Iyer
It’s night-time in Bangkok and the streets are alive with loud music, bright neon lights and pretty girls in short skirts,high – heels with long black shiny hair and they are for hire. Life for a widower can get pretty darn lonely you know. To employ the services of two beautiful young ladies can only mean one thing, can’t it? Loneliness is well and truly put to bed, but not in the way you might think.
Half Head by Colin Cotterill
A different location than Bangkok this time as this story is set in the Northern City of Chiang Mai. Samart Wichaiwong who was also known as Teacher Wong is a Shaman or claims to be. His day’s are filled with drinking copious amounts of beer and making a living off of people’s gullibility by claiming to be able to contact dead relatives. Teacher Wong is hired to help the police catch some villains, but experiences terrifying and very frequent nightmares by way of a spirit visiting him. The spirit has the answers to help him assist the police, but her required payment is interesting to say the least. As the story unfolds the stakes are upped considerably with regards to pay back for the spirit.
Dolphins Inc. by Christopher G. Moore
Set in Bangkok in a virtual reality world the story location wise drops in at the Nana Entertainment Plaza, the Port of Klong Toey and to a fishing village in Taiji, Japan. It starts with an aborted assassination of a Japanese businessman. Drops in to the popular ”smoke but no fire bar” In Nana Plaza after a hidden cash tip off from one of the dancing girl’s that work there. Besides this, there is brothel money being laundered through an iceberg business and lots of intriguing dialogue.
The Mistress Wants Her Freedom by Tew Bunnag
A bit on the side (or gig) as they say who upgrades to mistress with all the luxuries a mistress craves. To maintain this lifestyle all she has to do is provide a firm, sexy body and a listening ear to darling. That was the name she used for him and with the help of her youthful beauty and Viagra the system worked well for Darling as well. As life goes on though the mistress becomes unfulfilled and wants her freedom back. The relationship becomes complex and messy when the wife and a gay lover join the finale.
Hansum Man by Timothy Hallinan
Wallace reflected on how he had fallen in love with Bangkok after his first 6 months of duty in Vietnam. Back then Wallace was lean, young and handsome and that’s exactly what his Teerak (Thai for sweetheart), called him. His sweetheart was Jah and she worked at the Thai Heaven bar on New Petchburi road. She would be so pleased to see him and call him hansum man for sure. He remembered how she had cried at the airport the day he left. Now a much older Wallace returns to Bangkok expecting to carry on where he left off all those years ago. However Bangkok has changed now. It’s not the same anymore, as Wallace finds out when trouble appears to follow him.
Daylight by Alex Kerr
There’s a stabbing on the BTS platform, but when a reporter tries to get to the bottom of what happened he meets with silence. The same person had been pin pointed as the murderer by many and questioned by the police. The crime was after all committed in broad daylight in a very busy area, but why the stony cold silence and why was there never any mention of his name?
Death of a Legend by Dean Barrett
An ex successful Muay Thai fighter who left the ring and became a legend as a hitman is hired to do a job he’s not completely elated about. The man is a legend as a hit man a very professional cold calculating character, who asks no questions. This time though the job is not so straight forward.
The Sword by Vasit Dejkunjorn
A policeman who quickly learns that suspects are willing to pay for their freedom, whether innocent or guilty. But could the words of a pledge that the policeman made earlier in his career later turn around to haunt him.
The Lunch That Got Away by Eric Stone
A big restaurant with a rich and well-connected owner want the secret family recipe of a local street vendor. The street vendor on Sukhumvit Soi 11 is massively popular with her customers for her delicious Green curry coated banana leaf – wrapped bake fish which she keeps in a cooler box. It’s a case of don’t you just hate it when the rich steal from the poor. When robbed of her cooler box including special recipe and money it’s time with assistance for the little guy to fight back.
Hot Enough To Kill by Collin Piprell
If your dreams are of luxury cars, a pretty girlfriend beside you, wearing the latest brand name clothes, eating in the finest restaurants, drinking the finest whisky then you need money, good money. If your talents are found wanting then you must do what you have to do, it’s just the business of the day you know. And after you shall drink good cold beer.
The pilot was announcing that the weather in London is minus 2 degrees and we will shortly be making our descent in to Heathrow airport. Was I having a nightmare? Was it really London already? And is it really that cold? It was no nightmare I was back in reality. I had a slight chuckle to myself as I put the Bangkok Noir book in my bag. It could have been a worse nightmare. I could have had a visit from Halfhead.
I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories and highly recommend them. it was a great idea to bring together such fine writers each with their own and unique writing style.
Further more it was a fantastic gesture to find that the authors and the publisher are donating half of their earnings from the book to charity organisations that provide education to needy children in Thailand.