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Blog Archive November 2006

Regional Mysteries: East Asia & Southeast Asia

A website for those who want their mysteries set in East Asia & Southeast Asia is Readers Advice

North Korea
Southeast Asia (general)

Included on the list are Cotterill, Colin: Siri Paiboun series, Christopher G. Moore: Vincent Calvino series, Adamson, Isaac: Billy Chaka series, Peter May: China Thrillers series, and Christopher West: Inspector Wang series.

Posted: 11/28/2006 9:46:49 PM 


The Road

You’ve been hungry, scared, over-tired but you knew that somehow you’d survive. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the world is a colorless gray with ash covering the trees and snow, in the streams and rivers, fields and empty towns and villages looted, robbed and ransacked. The survivors of an unspoken world-ending event revert to roaming bands who hunt other human beings for meat. The narrator struggles against a bleak, lifeless landscape to keep himself and his son alive, telling his son, they are the good people, they would never eat another person. The novel is powerful as it reveals a side of human nature unrestrained by any principle, value or ethics; just an raw animal desire to survive at any cost.

Posted: 11/23/2006 12:00:46 AM 


Stephff’s Exhibition: Weapons of Mass Derision

Howard Richardson (ex-Metro), Christopher G. Moore, Colin Cotterill (author), and Phil Cornwell-Smith (ex-Metro)

On the opening night of Stephff’s Exhibition of political cartoons, a number of writers and journalists were present.

Weapons of Mass Derision - Stephff's cartoons
November 15-December 1, 2006 - MAP to the exhibition
Exhibition Hall of Pridi Banomyong Library, Thammasat University Libraries (Main Campus)
Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Meeting with Stephff : Open discussion - Sales of original art works on November 18, 1:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
For more information, call 02 225 9440 / 02 657 5131 / 02 287 9045
Free admission

Stephff’s cartoons appear regularly in the Nation newspaper in Bangkok, in various European newspapers, and the International Herald Tribute. You can see his work (and indeed buy them) online I have a set of Stephff’s prints in my office. If you are in Bangkok, stopping at Pridi Banomyong Library to see the exhibition is worth your time.

Posted: 11/20/2006 4:33:45 AM 


Vincent Calvino in Hebrew

Good news from our literary agent in Israel. Spirit House has been bought by one of Israel’s leading publisher and will be translated into Hebrew in 2007.

Posted: 11/17/2006 3:48:42 AM 


50th Year Anniversary for A Woman of Bangkok

It is 50 years since Jack Reynolds A Woman of Bangkok was published in New York. The ranking of the novel on amazon.com is #1,856,650. The raw number of an amazon ranking isn’t always a true indicator of the importance or significance of a book.

A Woman of Bangkok is, in my view, a significant book. There is no Wikipedia article for Jack Reynolds. No movie was ever made from A Woman of Bangkok. It is useful to look back at A Woman of Bangkok with two other novels set in this region in the 1950s.

During the same time period (1957), Richard Mason’s World of Susie Wong was also published in New York. It has no ranking on amazon.com and the only copies are on offer are from second-hand booksellers. In Mason’s novel a poor English artist falls in love with a prostitute who worked in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong. The World of Susie Wong became a hit film in 1960 staring William Holden. The movie turned the English struggling artist into an American. Largely because of the successful film, The World of Susie Wong continues in the collective consciousness. Although out of print, the novel remains a touchstone for those writing about the dramatic changes in Hong Kong.

The third novel to come out around the same time was Graham Greene’s The Quiet American It remains very much in print with the Penguin Deluxe edition ranked at 20,100.

Why has The Quiet American continued in print while the other two titles have faded into obscurity? I have a couple of theories. Graham Greene wove the French War in Vietnam into the story, and created conflict between Fowler, the old Asia hand, whose cynicism played against the wide-eye, young and innocent Pyle. Reynold’s A Woman of Bangkok lacked the crucible of a war and all of the danger, intrigue and emotion that flow from armed conflict. More importantly, the major defect in A Woman of Bangkok is the absence of a Fowler like character to offset the self-destructive and mindless narrator who was created in the mode of Pyle but without the well-developed background, which explained why Pyle became the kind of person that he did. What Reynolds did capture, however, was the authentic atmosphere of Bangkok in the 1950s and created a prototype novel about the western male who falls head over heels in love with a ruthless bargirl.

There is another explanation for the relative failure of A Woman of Bangkok and The World of Susie Wong. Both were by one-book wonder authors. Graham Greene created a large body of novels so it is possible to say that The Quiet American is his best-loved novel. Neither Reynolds nor Mason went onto produce other novels. They disappeared and in the case of Reynolds his novel of Bangkok in 1957 has largely disappeared with him.

Posted: 11/17/2006 3:47:02 AM 


Getting an Agent

An essential part of the publishing process for a writer of fiction is finding the right action. They are the gatekeepers. The large iron door to editors open wide enough for them to slip a manuscript inside.

Author Nicholas Sparks as these words of advice: “Agents act as a 'filtering' system for publishers these days. For every manuscript sent to a publishing house, there were thousands of manuscripts and query letters examined by agents. Agents are always looking for well-written manuscripts. If you can't find representation for your manuscript, don't blame the agents.”

There are a number of literary agents who blog about the mechanics of submitting proposals and books to an agent. New York agent Miss Snark and Denver Kristin Nelson

There are, however, few literary agents based in Asia. With the growth of publishing in China, though, that is set to change.

Posted: 11/15/2006 4:35:45 AM 


Organized crime Chinese style

Culture and history plays a big factor in way crime is organized. For those who get their organized crime information from the Godfather or the Sopranos, the image emerges of family based crime bosses rule over tight-knit families with swear an oath of secrecy as they go about their daily routine of extortion, drug-dealing, prostitution pedaling, hijacking, and gambling operations. As far as I can determine, know one has ever analyzed American organized crime along the Red state and Blue state political divide.

In China, the Hung societies which flourished during the Ching dynasty, in the South of China – the geographic area which supplied most of the immigrants to North America –were a secret society. Hung translates as “Brave” though the short hand expression was Red societies. In the North of China a rival secret society called the Ching societies were known as the Green societies. Local chapters existed not unlike Starbucks. Society members in the best tradition of Tony Soprano swore an oath of loyalty.

The societies were much more than an association of gangsters. They ran schools. They looked after widows and orphans of members. Each local lodge had a lot of freedom to choose its own officers. They had their own system of justice and punishment. Also they had private armies divided in fighting sections of 10 to 50 men. They recruited beyond the immediate family of the members. But each member was considered a “brother” and part of “the family.” The lodges were subdivided into departments and division, each with a leader.

What Tony Soprano’s organization lacked was “the Incense Master.”

The history of these societies and Triads show a pattern of organization and leadership that would have been easily adapted to communist communes. Some brothers are “Green” and some brothers are “Red”.

For an illuminating article on the structure and organization of a Hung Society Branch: http://www.capital.net/~phuston/hung.html

Posted: 11/13/2006 10:58:05 PM 


The Yes Men

I had an email from a friend about the Yes Men

I was unaware of their existence.

“The Yes Men have impersonated some of the world's most powerful criminals at conferences, on the web, and on television, in order to correct their identities. They currently have hundreds of thousands of job openings.” Their website is: http://www.theyesmen.org

But they did inspire me:

So many movements, so little time to move,
Yes men, no men, maybe men,
Witnesses to the arc from a flamethrower.

Posted: 11/10/2006 5:02:21 AM 


Pre-Order The Risk of Infidelity Index

For those of you looking for the next Vincent Calvino novel, it is now possible to pre-order The Risk of Infidelity Index. You will need to scroll down the page until you come to the heading Pre-Publication Orders.

The new Calvino is on schedule for release in January 2007 and as soon as the books are received from the printer, your copy will be sent via UPS. The US dollar doesn’t buy as much fried rice as it did a year ago. The price of the new Calvino is US$15.95 plus shipping. The book price is in US dollars is now less than the price in the bookstores in Bangkok (which is Baht 595).

The blurb on the back cover The Risk of Infidelity Index reads:

Major political demonstrations are rocking Bangkok. Chaos and fear sweep through the Thai and expatriate communities. Rumors of coup d’état are in the air, as Calvino steps into the political firestorm as he investigates a drug piracy operation. The piracy is traced to a powerful business interest protected by important political connections. A nineteen-year-old Thai woman and a middle-age lawyer end up dead on the same evening. Both are connected to Calvino’s investigation. The dead lawyer’s law firm denies any knowledge of the case. Calvino is left in the cold. Approached by a group of expat housewives-—rattled by The Risk of Infidelity Index that ranks Bangkok number one for available sexual temptations—to investigate their husbands, Calvino discovers the alliance of forces blocking his effort to disclose the secret pirate drug investigation

Posted: 11/3/2006 4:39:34 AM 


Looking to fiction for a guide to political truth

Corruption in Asia is opaque. Behind the fogged window deals are cut, payments made, transfers to offshore accounts. If it were a large, open field, then one might say the press occasionally digs around the corners, sometimes striking a small root. In the International Herald Tribune Friday 3 November 2006, in an article captioned: “In Shanghai, a prism of fiction reveals truth.” Correspondent Howard W. French read Qui Xiaolong’s novel When Red is Black.

French quotes Qui Xiaolong, who is a reporter for a Saint Louis newspaper and living in the United States, who was interviewed on NPR, “Everywhere, at every level you meet with different kinds of corruption.” He also notes that while Qui Xiaolong’s detective novels haven’t been ban in China, the local publisher changed of the city where the detective works from Shanghai to a nonsense name. “They changed a lot,” Qui said. “Some paragraphs or sentences they simply cut.” French writes Qui’s novels can be read “as a sort of almanac of today’s corruption scandal.”

Posted: 11/2/2006 10:53:25 PM 


Chinese Modern Detective Fiction

Death of a Red Heroine (Soho Crime) (Paperback) by Qiu Xiaolong

I came across this title through Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction where Peter Rozvsky ranked it number 2 in a list of 10 of his favourite non-American crime novels. From what I’ve read about Death of a Red Heroine, this takes crime fiction into the social and political realm of a society in transition from one system to another. In other words, you get more than just another murder case. It promises to deliver an intelligent insight into the minds of those living in Shanghai during the 1990s.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Set a decade ago in Shanghai, this political mystery offers a peek into the tightly sealed, often crooked world of post-Tiananmen Square China. Chen Cao, a poet and T.S. Eliot translator bureaucratically assigned to be chief inspector, has to investigate the murder of Guan Hongying, a young woman celebrated as a National Model Worker, but who kept her personal life strictly and mysteriously confidential. Chen and his comrade, Detective Yu, take turns interviewing Guan's neighbors and co-workers, but it seems most of them either know nothing or are afraid to talk openly about a deceased, highly regarded public figure. Maybe they shouldn't be so uneasy, some characters reason; after all, these are "modern times" and socialist China is taking great leaps toward free speech. Chen and Yu make headway when they stumble on Wu Xiaoming, senior editor of Red Star magazine, who apparently was involved with Guan before her death. Tiptoeing around touchy politics and using investigative tactics bordering on blackmail, Chen slowly pieces together the motives behind the crime.”

The amazon reviewers have also heaped praise on the novel.

“Inspector Chen and Detective Yu are instantly likable and deeply-drawn characters, as is their circle of friends and family. Woven into the story are the their personal lives, which the author uses to paint a vivid picture of China just a decade ago.”


“The best aspect of the novel as political commentary is the plausible depiction of China's transition from Socialism to Capitalism and how it affects a range of Chinese citizens. Is the author in trouble if he ever goes back to China? Looks like Xiaolong is enjoying freedom of speech.”


“The book does not disappoint; it is a splendid mix of historical fiction, political and social observation, with a newly appointed Chief Inspector Chen who is a wonderfully fully developed character (as are all the characters in the book).”

Other titles by the same author:

- A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong
- When Red Is Black by Qiu Xiaolong
- A Case of Two Cities: An Inspector Chen Novel (Inspector Chen Novels) by Qiu Xiaolong

Posted: 11/1/2006 2:40:10 AM 



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