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Blog Archive November 2007

Laotian Crime Fiction

Colin Cotterill has a crime fiction series set in Laos. I can recommend his Disco for the Departed.

The main continuing characters in the series are Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73-year-old national coroner who has the ability to communicate with the spirit world. This gives, at times, a surreal spin to the crime story as the good doctor plugs into the world of the dead to find leads in his investigation of a double-murder. Dr. Siri’s companion is Nurse Dtui who dreams of a scholarship to the Soviet Union where she can continue her studies though it is reasonably clear that she will remain firmly planted in Laos. The last member of the trio is a morgue assistant Mr. Geung who is a low-grade moron (in the medical sense as opposed the usual run of the mill morons).

Mr. Geung shows himself a survivor in this book, trekking hundreds of kilometers after his detention by the authorities. The novel is set in the late 1970s with lots of insight into the political situation and the Laotian culture. The relationship between the North Vietnamese and their Laotian counterparts is closely observed and well rendered.

The basic premise of this crime novel is the search for the killer of two Cubans. There is a major political event to take place and it would be good to have the loose ends tied up before the big shots enter the stage. The Cubans were part of a detachment to support the communist revolution. They disappeared. Then a body is found. Unwinding their fate is left to the hands of Dr. Siri and Nurse Dtui, who uncover evidence of the killer from forensic work and clues in the spirit world.

Colin Cotterill’s books ought to have been on the New York Book list of international crime fiction. He has written an award winning series that is entertaining, with strong characters and insightfully developed. For the arm chair traveler who wishes to go to Laos the novel and series is highly recommended.

Posted: 11/26/2007 10:32:55 PM 



For the past dozen years crime fiction has been attracting a growing audience. Readers get a two for one in the best of the international crime. Foremost is the story told from a point of view likely to be different from that found in locally produced crime fiction. The other compelling point is that crime fiction is another way to become an armchair traveler to exotic locations. It is the latter point that New York Books has published a top ten list of international crime fiction.

The locations around the world included on the New York Books list are: Havana, Dublin, Stockholm, Johannesburg, St. Petersburg, and The Gaza Strip. The locations from Asia include: China, North Korea, and Japan.

Posted: 11/26/2007 10:25:39 PM 


Spirit House

The Grove Press edition of Spirit House will be released early summer 2008. Here’s a preview of the cover of the Grove edition:

If you are in the States or the UK is possible to pre-order from amazon.

Posted: 11/21/2007 5:06:26 AM 



Two novels in the Vincent Calvino series are now available in mass paperback editions. The books are priced at $9.95 plus shipping. You can order The Big Weird and Pattaya 24/7 from the order page on my website.

The Big Weird (fifth in the Calvino Series)

A beautiful American blond is found dead with a large bullet hole in her head in the house of her ex-boyfriend. A famous Hollywood screenwriter hires Calvino to investigate her death. Everyone except Calvino’s client believes Samantha McNeal has committed suicide.

“The Big Weird is an excellent read, charming, amusing, insightful, complex, localised yet startlingly universal in its themes.”
—Guide of Bangkok

“A good read, fast-paced and laced with so many of the locales so familiar to the expat denizens of Bangkok.”
—Art of Living (Thailand)

“Like a noisy, late-night Thai restaurant, Moore serves up tongue-burming spices that swallow up the literature of Generation X and Cyberpsace as if they were merely sticky rice.”
—The Daily Yomiuri

Pattaya 24/7 (eighth in the Calvino Series)

Inside a secluded, lush estate located on the edge of Pattaya, an eccentric English-man’s gardener is found hanged. Calvino has been hired to investigate. Calvino finds himself pulled deep into the shadows of the war against drugs, into Code Orange alerts to flash across the screen of American intelligence.

“Calvino does it again...well-developed characters and the pace keeps you reading well after you should have turned out the light.”
—Farang Magazine (Thailand)

“Intelligent and articulate, Moore offers a rich, passionate and original take on the private eye game, fans of the genre should definitely investigate, and fans of foreign intrigue will definitely enjoy.”
—Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine

“The best in the Calvino series . . . The story is compelling.”
—Bangkok Post

Posted: 11/16/2007 12:08:22 AM 


Inter-Racial Dating and Marriage

It is common to see racially mixed couples in shopping malls, restaurants and discos in Bangkok and in other cities in Thailand. The typical couple is a Thai woman with a farang man. Though there are certainly lots of examples of Thai men with farang women. In many of my books starting with A Killing Smile I have written about racially mixed couples, their problems, conflicts, their source of anxiety, and the cultural roadblocks they often encounter in Thailand.

Slate has an article by Ray Fisman: An Economist goes to the Bar looking at how racial characteristics factor into the decision to date and marry. Here are some of Fisman’s conclusions:

“Women of all the races we studied revealed a strong preference for men of their own race: White women were more likely to choose white men; black women preferred black men; East Asian women preferred East Asian men; Hispanic women preferred Hispanic men. But men don't seem to discriminate based on race when it comes to dating. A woman's race had no effect on the men's choices.

“Two wrinkles on this: We found no evidence of the stereotype of a white male preference for East Asian women. However, we also found that East Asian women did not discriminate against white men (only against black and Hispanic men). As a result, the white man-Asian woman pairing was the most common form of interracial dating—but because of the women's neutrality, not the men's pronounced preference.”

The Slate article refers to a recent study titled Racial Preferences in Dating which is based on a speed dating experiment with graduate students attending Columbia University. The results of the study reveal some interesting data:

-Females exhibit stronger racial preferences than males.

-Only 4% of marriages in the United States are between partners of different race.

-Inter-racial matches may be rare, therefore, simply because members of different races interact relatively infrequently.

-Our results indicate that even in a population of relatively progressive individuals we observe strong racial preferences.

Whoever is in charge of immigration policy ought to have a look at this study. The deep-seated prejudice based on race is one of those dirty secrets. One would suspect that a study in most countries would show that the tribal impulse to form relationships with members of the same tribe is the norm. The stuff of drama follows from interpersonal conflict. Add to that interracial conflict, and you have the spark that ignites the narratives in books such as To Kill A Mockingbird and A Time to Kill. With all the technological marvels at hand, we still have yet to confront the most basic of truths: everyone alive today can trace a common ancestor that came out of Africa around 60,000 years ago.

We live in small, isolated enclaves enclosed with prevailing tribal myths and taboos and race often becomes the most visible, tangible way of defining who is my brother and who is my enemy. If a relative enlightened society – a racially mixed one as well – with a history of civil right and anti-discrimination laws retains the basic racism of the tribe, one might assume that in less enlightened societies the racial barriers to marriage are even higher.
A tip of the hat to J.A. Paulos for drawing the Slate article to my attention.

Posted: 11/9/2007 2:55:08 AM 


Remembering and Forgetting

Marcel Proust wrote about memory in Swann’s Way. Like Turner’s famous paintings of sunsets, Proust took readers inward to cull, witness, enjoy, and interpret that great terrain of the remembered past.

A great deal of our identity is shaped by what we remember about the past. Memory, in most people, is variable, fickle, and unreliable. At the base level, memory is a pattern recognition system rooted in the billions of neurons in our brain. In a recent National Geographic article titled Remember This by Joshua Foer, the author recounts Jorge Luis Borges famous short story about memory:

“In his short story Funes the Memorious, Jorge Luis Borges describes a man crippled by an inability to forget. He remembers every detail of his life, but he can't distinguish between the trivial and the important. He can't prioritize, he can't generalize. He is ‘virtually incapable of general, platonic ideas.’ Perhaps, as Borges concludes in his story, it is forgetting, not remembering, that is the essence of what makes us human. ‘To think,’ Borges writes, ‘is to forget.’”

The article explores the world of AJ who literary remembers everything that has happened to her. The mental world of this 41-year-old woman is one that drug companies are working to bring to the general public.

“Within the past decades, drug companies have elevated the search to brave new heights. Armed with a sophisticated understanding of memory's molecular underpinnings, they've sought to create new drugs that amplify the brain's natural capacity to remember. In recent years, at least three companies have been formed with the express purpose of developing memory drugs. One of those companies, Cortex Pharmaceuticals, is attempting to develop a class of molecules known as ampakines, which facilitate the transmission of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is one of the primary excitatory chemicals passed across the synapses between neurons. By amplifying its effects, Cortex hopes to improve the brain's underlying ability to form and retrieve memories. When administered to middle-age rats, one ampakine was able to fully reverse their age-related decline in the cellular mechanism of memory.”

The memory wonder drug raises all kinds of questions for which there are no immediate answers:

“All of this raises some troubling ethical questions. Would we choose to live in a society where people have vastly better memories? In fact, what would it even mean to have a better memory? Would it mean remembering things only exactly as they happened, free from the revisions and exaggerations that our mind naturally creates? Would it mean having a memory that forgets traumas? Would it mean having a memory that remembers only those things we want it to remember? Would it mean becoming AJ?”

Now exactly where did I leave my cell phone?

Posted: 11/7/2007 11:00:10 PM 


The Passion of Raymond Chandler

The best writing is fueled by passion. In the case of Raymond Chandler, there is a strong case that his heart-felt passion for his wife was the dominant force that propelled his writing.

There is a biography published on 6th November 2007 about the relationship between Chandler and his wife. Richard Rayner recently reviewed 'The Long Embrace' by Judith Freeman in the LA Times

. “Chandler enlisted in a Canadian regiment and went off to fight in World War I, in no small part, Freeman argues, "because he found himself in the untenable position of being in love with another man's wife." He came back, or was drawn back, to Los Angeles in 1919. After much argument and discussion, Julian Pascal agreed to bow out of the picture, but Cissy and Chandler didn't marry until 1924, when Chandler's mother -- with whom he'd been living -- died at last from an agonizing cancer. Only then, or a little later, did Chandler learn that Cissy was not eight years older than him, as he'd thought, but eighteen. He was 35, and he'd married a woman of 53.”

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, has described the new biography as “Part biography, part detective story, part love story, and part séance.”

From these preliminary reviews, there is a lesson to be drawn from Chandler’s passion for his wife. He used it as the platform from which he wrote crime fiction. What is important to realize is that Chandler didn’t write thinly veiled novels about his wife or their relationship. There are a fair number of novels (mostly self-published) that can be found in Bangkok bookstores where the writer has not used his passion for a loved one to create an original story. Instead he has written a book that revolves around his passion and the relationship that generated the passion. Most of the time this kind of Thailand novel fails to convince. It falls flat. A book about the discovery of love and a cross-cultural relationship while meaningful to the writer has little interest for general readers. Readers look for writers who use their passion (from whatever source it is drawn) to create credible, original and skillfully crafted, entertaining narratives. The passion itself should be hidden, left in the background, a source of mystery as to what inspired the writer.

Posted: 11/7/2007 3:59:27 AM 


From where do we get our sense of Self?

Neurology is closing in on answers to this ancient question. Novelists are in the business of inventing, refining and explaining the “self” found in characters. But do we really have a grasp of the mechanisms that create a sense of self?

In an article titled The Neurology of Self-Awareness, V.S. Ramachandran discusses the current theories and research.

“There are many aspects of self. It has a sense of unity despite the multitude of sense impressions and beliefs. In addition it has a sense of continuity in time, of being in control of its actions ("free will"), of being anchored in a body, a sense of its worth, dignity and mortality (or immortality). Each of these aspects of self may be mediated by different centers in different parts of the brain and its only for convenience that we lump them together in a single word.”

Posted: 11/4/2007 11:52:58 PM 


Anyone at home?

In pursuit of one's own shadow

By Zinovy Zinik

Zinovy Zinik is a novelist who fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ended up living in Britain. He has written an article containing a number of thought provoking observations about a writer who leaves one culture to live and write in another. “People are becoming more and more enclosed in themselves, less tolerant of outsiders, of those who don't belong to their tribal cultures. Their tribal integrity remains remarkably intact, the singular sense of belonging is undisturbed by the plurality of the world outside.” For an émigré living in Asia, the idea of tribe is implicit in political, social and economic life. It is the predominant, moving force that is used to bind and unite people toward common purpose.

If you aren’t considered part of that “tribe” then the chances are high that your views will be forever excluded from whatever debate is held. As it is accepted that members of the tribe are the ones who can legitimately debate tribal matters. After all what would an émigré bring to such public discussion? The fear is the outsider exposes contradictions, inaccuracies, myths, lies and asks potentially embarrassing questions. Tribes are fragile constructs, which like religion, don’t fair well under the microscopic analysis of the tools from the Enlightenment.

At the same time, the émigré writer often walks a no-man’s land between cultures and like the DMZ separating the two Koreas, it can be a hostile, lonely, bewildering place, a place in between. Zinik writes, “While the native author deals with moral ambiguities by proxy, using his characters, the personality of the émigré writer is part of his fiction's plot – he himself has to decide on which side of the border his mind is.”

I am not so certain that he must choose one side of the border over the other. Or one tribe over another. What he should do is this. He must be prepared to expose the lies that are packaged as truths on both sides. He must find the commonality of the human condition that transcends the tribe and the border. He should not take sides or draw judgments. Characters through their actions are enough to allow others to judge themselves about the qualities of the person and their ultimate worth and value.

“Unlike ordinary mortals, the writer, with his polyamorous, multifarious mind, is capable of holding the centre in this world of mental confusion and lost identities. He can create an illusion of unity amidst this chaos by turning it into a coherent story. In that, he is not very different from the founder of a new religion. The difference between writing and religion is that the purpose of every religion is to deliver the believer from spiritual despair and bring tranquillity to his soul and peace to his mind. Writing, at its best, disturbs the spiritual smugness of the reader by representing situations where borders, political and moral boundaries, are crossed, where ethical taboos are transgressed. Ambiguity is a precondition of drama.”

Posted: 11/4/2007 11:52:01 PM 



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