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Blog Archive April 2012

The Cell and the Cell Phone

Thailand’s 3G Prisons

By Christopher G. Moore

The idea of prison is a convicted criminal is removed from society and locked in a facility where his freedom of movement and association is limited. A prisoner occupies a cell. Unless he’s in solitary, the prisoner also has access to other facilities such as dinning hall, library, exercise room, and TV room. Punishment means removal from society. Loss of freedom. Loss of liberty. And loss of opportunities to conduct a business or trade.

Then came the cell phone. Given recent events in a Thai prison, it might be argued that ‘cell’ phone is a good description of the mobile phones with cheap SIM cards that can put a drug dealer in contact with his organization. Add the iPad, iPhone, and hard drive for backups, being in prison doesn’t really mean the same thing as in the old analog world where a man had to be physically present to oil the machinery on the illegal treadmill that sent drugs in one direction and received money from the other.

If you are going to run a home office out of your prison cell, the first thing you need to do is find a partner or two in authority. These are prison staff, officials, guards whose job is to make certain the prisoner is kept out of circulation for the term of his sentence. When most people think of prisons, if they think of them at all, the image is a tattooed murderer, rapist, robber or pedophile.  The violent, twisted, dangerous dregs of society belong behind bars. It satisfies the human need to avenge the harm to victims, and also protects the members of society from suffering a similar fate at the hands of such predators.

Most prisons are filled with people from the illegal drug trade. They are more like businessmen than the general population. Thugs, gangster, ruthless and law-breaking businessmen to be sure. Given the overall ethical quality of workers in the finance and banking industry, these prisoners share more with the members of the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs than with the child killer waiting for his day of reckoning on death row.

These are the kind of prisoners who have organizational skills, employees, and who have expertise in paying off the right people. Well, some expertise in paying off the right people or they wouldn’t be in prison. They can develop the pay off skill with some years in prison. They have an entire prison staff to practice on. The guards and staff are paid peanuts. The drug lords inside are making large profits and can offer incentives that would turn overnight an ordinary life of guarding prisoners and getting by in near poverty into a quantum leap into a better life of fancy houses, cars, and holidays.

You make something millions of people want illegal and you make a small group of people willing to break that law to reap the profits, which  means you have the perfect storm that produces a new wave of convicts who in turn rather than being punished in prison, move their operation inside and joint venture with the officials running the place. Think of it as renting office space with bars on the windows and your own private security operation to protect you.

Cell phones for Cells. That could have been the lead in the recent Bangkok Post report about Nakhon Si Thammarat police chief’s statement that prisoners in his jail were working drug deals with prisoners at Bang Khwang Central Prison. How did the police chief figure this out? He conducted a raid last Sunday. The raid yielded “284 mobile phones, 1,700 methamphetamine pills, or ya ba, and 50g of crystal meth, or ya ice, in prison cells.” In a second raid on Monday, officials seized more than 10 phones and more than 100 inmates tested positive for drugs.

The betting money is that officials inside the prison tipped their paymasters in advance of the raid. Meaning that what was seized was only what couldn’t be hidden or taken out of the prison in advance of the raid. One general went on record to admit his frustration that some prisoners had advance warning of the raid. It’s hard to be surprised by their loyalty.

The prison officials take a hard look at their monthly government paycheck. Then they have long look at the revenue steam they get from convicted drug dealers inside the prison. The choice is drawing water from a leaky old tap or dipping over the edge of Niagara Falls. If water were money, where would you fill your bucket? All those extra zeros are bound to tip the scale of loyalty. Follow the money, as they say, and you can pretty much guess where a man’s loyalty lies.

It seems the men inside the joint had been running a large drug network with the digital trail running through the back jungle lanes in Laos and Myanmar. Meanwhile, the policy of dealing with illegal drugs hasn’t changed. The current government has sent the cops to arrest and if need be shoot drug ‘dealers’ (along with occasional innocent bystanders as collateral damage) as a public show of how they are cracking down on the illegal drug racket.

But the recent prison raid, it is arguable that the authorities have been looking in the wrong place. This puts the spotlight on an uncomfortable thought: that the people who are driving their pickups with a stash of drugs hidden inside are as much the problem as the convicted drug dealers who continue to run the business from behind bars.

The Justice Ministry announced a crackdown on drug trade in prisons. If you think that is going to work, please raise your hand. Like I thought, I see no hands raised. Doubling the pay of prison staff and officials isn’t going to help. The illegal money is far too much. Jam the cell phones. Someone will sell an anti-jammer device. Conduct more frequent raids. They will be scheduled to make certain the main business isn’t inconvenienced too much. Lock up inmates in bare cells with the lights on 24 hours a day. Human rights organizations descend along with camera crews and you face charges of human rights violations.

Here’s an idea. Why not reconsider the notion of criminalization of drugs? We assess how we characterize victimless crimes, addicts, and develop policies that reflect a difference between treatment and incarceration. That might just put the current crop of drug dealers in prison out of business, and return prison staff and officials to their duties where they’d relearn the art of living on a civil servant salary.

Otherwise, the government can pretend, as governments do in most places, that they are cracking down on illegal drugs and protecting society. When in reality the official policy effectively has moved the headquarter operation of the drug business off the streets and into a secure facility where the cops can’t ambush them and shoot them dead and claim self-defense.

The new globalized set of high tech savvy drug dealers who now live in prisons would be the first to resist decriminalization. If they had a lobbyist in this capitol or another and made large campaign contributions, they would be the first to support the current system of extra-judicial killings (a good way to teach the non-jailed drug dealers to stay out of their territory), occasional raids and crackdowns. It is a great cover for their operations. It allows politicians to stay popular by methods they insist is winning the war on drugs.

When we know that the war has already been won. Just visit a prison and you’ll find a band of the winners of the current policies. This elite class of prisoners is building themselves a nice little nest egg for the day they walk out of the prison gate. No doubt once out, they will miss the freedom they had on the inside. The outside world is far more dangerous and expensive.

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www.cgmoore.com

Christopher G. Moore's latest novel is The Wisdom of Beer.

Posted: 4/26/2012 9:03:27 PM 

 

POISON

Mental test: What is the first weapon that comes into your head when I ask you to name a murder weapon?

Chances are you’d choose a gun, bomb, knife, sword, and a blunt instrument.

My guess is that you wouldn’t have chosen poison.

For young readers you might think of the band named Poison. They have shiny chrome skulls on their website.

From 331 BC The Romans used poison to lace food and drink. The fad of using fatal substances over a personal, business or political conflict ran through all classes of Romans.  By medieval times, the Arabs developed arsenic, odorless and clear substance, to kill a rival or enemy. There was no CSI in those days so proving that someone was poisoned as opposed to having died of natural causes was more difficult. Asia joined the ranks of cultures where poison became a tool to eliminate competitors.

It is easy for anyone to buy poison from a local shop. Either pesticide or disinfectant , in sufficient doses, will kill a horse. And either product will snuff out the life of a man, woman or child.

William Shakespeare captured the essence of our fear in Henry VI, Part II, Act III, Scene 2. “Hide not thy poison with such sugar’d words.” In a word, poison works by deception. When a person pretends to offer friendship and hospitality, our guard is down. If someone pulls a gun or knife, we have no difficulty understanding the threat. Poison in our tea. That is hitting us in a fear region that lives way below the belt line.

Pick your poison: arsenic, antimony, mercury, lead and thallium. All have been used to murder.

Women historically had a number of motives to commit murder. Their civil, property, inheritance, and marital rights were restricted in most places until the last hundred years. What better way to end a marriage, to ensure a father’s inheritance, to cover up an indiscretion than using a little poudre de succession or “inheritance powder”—the name the French gave to arsenic.

Poison and women are back in the news in Asia. And the case comes with all of the intrigue, deception, back door financial dealings, and corruption that would have left William Shakespeare trying to catch his breath.

A young British businessman Neil Heywood died suddenly last November in China. The official cause was alcohol poisoning and heart attack. Only Neil Heywood, the father of two, didn’t drink. Forty-one year olds don’t normally die of heart attacks. One would have thought the British authorities might have made some inquiries. But at the time, the British authorities accepted the

Chinese verdict. Big mistake. The ground has shifted. The allegation made in China is that Gu Kailai, the lawyer and wife of former Chongqing Communist party secretary, poisoned Heywood.

That’s a big deal. The theory being developed, now that Bo Xilai has been sidelined from his powerful position, is that the couple had used Heywood to transfer money abroad. The allegations are hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s not the official salary for a Communist party secretary but it is a good indication of the economic opportunities that go with that position if the office holder is so inclined.  The case is building that Heywood and Gu Kailai had a falling out over the commission that was to be paid by Heywood.

Soap box operas, tabloid newspapers, talk shows all embrace such sordid cases and they can also join the ranks of the New York Times and the Guardian in allowing readers to follow the updates on what is bound to prove to be one of the most interesting international murder cases in 2012. A murder case with potentially profound political implications for the Chinese Communist Party in the way it selects, monitors and disciplines members who cross the line where greed and murder override ideological purity. The CPC Central Committee has ordered a thorough investigation of the case. That doesn’t happen often. In fact, old China hands would have to be consulted the last time the Central Committee investigated the possibility of a murder carried out by the wife of a high-ranking Party Official party official.

Now for the noir part. The case became so toxic in Chongqing concerning the murder that the police chief tried to defect to the US consulate. I’d like to have been a fly at the gate to the consulate as the police chief rolled up and explained to the 19-year-old Marine that he was the chief of police and wanted to defect to America.

“A powerful woman will have me killed,” I imagined he said. But I am a novelist and I am certain he said something more along the lines, “I want to see the consulate.”

Wang Lijun, the police chief, looks like an emotional mess, glancing over his shoulder, chain-smoking, and his uniform rumpled from being on the run for a few days and nights. “Yeah, right,” the marine must have thought. “I let this guy inside and they will be checking my urine for drugs until I’m 100 years old.”

The American consulate true to their creed of offering asylum to the oppressed, and those about to be murdered by their own officials, did what you would expect. They turned Wang Lijun over to the authorities in Beijing. Maybe the rendition planes scheduled for Iraq were all booked up. We’ll never know.

Now that Heywood’s death has hit the tabloids, the British government did what you’d pretty much expect them to do: ask the Chinese to investigate the circumstances of Heywood’s death. Questions are being raised in UK parliament and no doubt in what ever room the Central Committee sips its tea. What does the foreign secretary William Hague have to say according to the Guardian? “We now wish to see the conclusion of a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case and ensures that justice is done.”

Free from political interference? Justice? Truth? Excuse me, exactly what alternative reality does Hague live in? The man should have his urine checked for drugs. There must be some substance that explains how tragedy has been converted into farce without anyone laughing.  Or noticing that farce is more likely our existential finality.

Politics as well as jealous and greed, share a long history with poison as a partner in crime.  This case is no exception. What makes Heywood’s case one that may go down in the annals as a significant crime is the classic setting of court intrigue, betrayal, greed, and power. Like the Game of Thrones, a power struggle is afoot. In that whirlwind Gu Kailai’s guilt is what appears on the official stage.

But what happens behind stage is likely far more interesting as the downfall of Bo comes at a time when there is a Chinese secretive generational shift, and new, younger faces (men with less hair dye) will take their places at the seats of power. No doubt taking a new oath to swear they will endeavor to instruct their wives not to resort to poudre de succession to eliminate foreigners. And also the wives must promise never to scare local police chiefs into defecting to America. That leaves such a bad black eye for the rest of the world to see.

Posted: 4/19/2012 8:22:30 PM 

 

BIG IDEAS IN CRIME FICTION

A recent article in the Financial Times (a must read for all crime writers who are interested in following the flow of money between the usual suspects) carried an article written by Jeannie Erdal under the title: What’s the big idea? Her basic idea is that the novel, especially the 19th century Russian novel, is one of the best way of serving up a buffet of philosophical idea about what is meant to lead a good life.

What struck me about Erdal’s article was the absence of any mention of crime fiction. Though Crime and Punishment might be torn away from the dead fingers of the traditionalists and placed in the crime fiction category. My point isn’t about how best to classify this Russian novel, but to point out that perhaps Erdal has been looking in the wrong place to find where novelists have taken their questions about justice, fairness and the nature of society. The Guardian also has an article written by Adkitya Chakrabortty titled Why are English and American novels today so Gutless? The thesis not unlike Erdal’s is that contemporary writers willing to tackle social and political issues are far and few.

I disagree with the conclusions reached by Erdal and Chakrabortty. They have been looking in the wrong place for fiction addressing the larger political and philosophical matters of our time. Bestseller lists and most literary novels might not yield such commentary. Because novels falling into one of these two categories fail to deliver social and political commentary means critics need to look harder and further afield. Is it possible they’ve overlooked a class of novels that falls under the radar?

If you read crime fiction, you will likely have come across a number of philosopher crime authors whose sleuths or police officers shuttle along pathways laid down by Hume, Socrates, Plato, Mills, and Locke. There is no shortage of contemporary crime authors who write hardboiled or noir fiction whose novels raise the existential questions about being, whose narratives seek to resolve questions about liberty, fairness and equality. In fact, there is a long tradition of such philosophical examination of society by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett who were philosopher writers as were Georges Simenon and Léo Malet.

The popularity of noir fiction is a testament to the appetite of readers for existential narratives that portray the powerlessness of criminals and victims over their own destinies, and novels that raise issues about free will and authority. The Scandinavian authors have received considerable attention for highlighting larger philosophical questions about nature of culture and society. Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, were both international bestseller. Stieg Larsson in particular captured a huge audience as he took readers on a search for answers to crimes committed inside right wing class of capitalists whose wealth made them all but immune for their crimes.

The idea of excesses among the elites in Sweden started a fire that has spread to many other cultures and countries where crime fiction authors have explored the large question of who do the authorities and law enforcement officials hold the elites responsible for their crimes?  Peter Hoeg and Stieg Larsson are two recent examples of political philosophy curled up like a hidden dimension inside the traditional form of crime fiction.

That dimension of ideas has been building for sometime in crime fiction. Reviewers and critics haven’t been looking in this genre for veins of philosophical goal in these mines, and that may be because crime fiction isn’t to be taken seriously as the traditional gold mines: literary fiction. They’ve been looking in the wrong place in other words.

For at least the last decade, readers have embraced hardboiled and noir novels because they connect with a longing to have such deeper philosophical issues arise from the scene of a crime. And that is where crime fiction starts. What happens next can take the reader into the complexity of norms and ideas, and before anyone realizes, the choices the characters make along the way reveal to us the kind of society, justice system, and economic system that is under our nose.

There are several crime fiction authors whose books have raised philosophical questions. They are interested in more than solving a crime. They are examining the psyche of the criminal, the victim and the society, with its structure of power and authority, detailing the fault lines where crime occurs. The problem with this list is it is too short. There are a number of authors who should be included. But this is a short essay and not a book. The list below includes some of the big idea authors currently writing hardboiled/noir crime fiction.

Colin Cotterill has two crime fiction series that lock onto larger issues of political and economic oppression in Southeast Asia. His Dr. Siri Paiboun, an old chief medical officer, a communist, is set during the 1970s in Laos. The contradictions of communism, friendship, local culture, and mysticism are blended into insightful narratives that bring to life the larger question of how best to live in society. His second series staring Jimm Juree, a Thai ex-journalist, who has moved to the southern part of Thailand with her family has gone deep into the subject of Thai fishing boats using slave Burmese labor.

Timothy Hallinan’s The Queen of Patpong is a gripping portrayal of young girls and women from upcountry villages and whose lives have been shaped by society to enter Thailand’s nighttime entertainment industry. His investigator, an American travel writer named Poke Rafferty is a reliable guide to the world that creates the perfectly exploited woman. In this compelling examination of not only how we should live but also what the consequences of living a life where money obtained at any cost is the driving value are.

John Burdett’s Vulture Peak is part of a continuing series beginning with Bangkok 8 to feature luk krueng Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. As a former Buddhist monk and someone who works as a policeman, Sonchai is constantly confronting contradiction between the tenets of faith and the workings of the justice system. From corruption to profiteering, Burdett’s crime fiction gets down to business on the value and meaning of life where powerful interest can do pretty much what they wish. Burdett’s fiction tunnels deep into the psyche where dreams, religion, mysticism and desire mingle, touching the core of how meaning defines life in Thailand and how the powerful use their authority inside a society to keep themselves in control.

Matt Beynon Rees’s has a series set in Gaza. The first book in the series Collaborator of Bethlehem introducing a middle-aged school teacher named Omar Yussef who leads the reader into violent, broken world inside the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp is a gripping commentary on the politics of the Middle East. If you want to understand the passion of true believers, the way injustice and power corrupt communities, you won’t find a better series. As an example of a writer who is a philosopher at heart, Matt Rees’s crime fiction is Exhibit A in any discussion of how crime fiction can deliver content to the discussion of what makes for a fair, and justice society and what struggling people must endure to achieve it.

Jim Thompson’s Finland based Inspector Vaara series is a philosopher’s feast. Snow Angels is in the best tradition of fiction that uses cultural issues such as racism to go under the surface of a society and work through the consequences of tolerating levels of injustice based on race. You come away from a book like Snow Angels with a new perspective on how our prejudices create a wormhole of hatred in the human heart, and that is bad enough, but when that hatred and fear becomes collective mentality, hanging like an invisible veil over many of the political and cultural institution. Thompson fiction is a preparatory course for examining how and why our attitudes and opinions of others can’t ever be disconnected from the scene of a crime where the victim is designated as an ‘other’ by society. And we know where that road leads.

I edited a collection of short stories titled Bangkok Noir. Half of the proceeds from the publisher and dozen authors have gone to support three charities that support the education of stateless children in Thailand. It’s a small step. The money is small. The point is a dozen crime fiction authors wrote some very fine stories about the hardscrabble world a lot of people occupy, and agreed that giving back was part of what any author should do. We have in the pipeline two additional collections: Phnom Penh Noir and The Orwell Brigade, involving more established authors from around the world, and more money will be channeled to social causes in Southeast Asia. What I’d say to those who say authors aren’t socially or politically engaged, or ignore philosophy in their work, please look again.

The old line between philosophy and fiction may still be there for sometime. Abstract ideas have one kind of audience, while narratives found in novels often have a different turn of mind, and different demands. While philosophy appeals to our intellect, novels touch our emotions. And it is inside the boiler room of emotions that the fires burn the hottest and the passions cooked inside are from the recipe of political and cultural ingredients handed down by our ancestors.  There is more than one way to make a loaf of bread, and more than one way to share the loaf that is made. If you want to see how bread is made, horded, handed out, fought over and killed for, buy one of the books from the authors I mentioned above.  You’ll never look at a loaf of cultural bread the same way after you’ve read them.

Posted: 4/13/2012 12:29:44 AM 

 

The Invisible Man

Last week I was at a gathering, which included an American from Kentucky who was passing through Bangkok. He had stories about George Clooney and other famous people from his State. The conversation turned to what young people in the United States aspired to in life. The answer from the American guest was simple: “They want to be famous.”

In a celebrity driven culture that should come as no surprise. Fame is associated with the good life—wealth, status, prestige, and glory. The world is your oysters. You are mobbed in public by admiring strangers.

In the old days, fame was limited to movie stars or superstars in the sports world, but fame has metastasized into many new areas including authors in the world of books.

There have been famous contemporary writers since Charles Dickens. Authors like Georges Simenon and his reputed bedtime with ten thousand women. Martin Amis and his reputed dental surgery. Salman Rushdie whose Midnight’s Children saw him go into hiding from the mullahs for a decade. James Patterson multimillion-dollar making fiction factory. J.K. Rowling, a welfare mother turning words into a billion dollars. These authors are recent examples of the rewards and punishment of the literary famous. They have set the goal post for the wannabe literary famous.

There is a new class of writers looking to join their elite status. Self-published ebook authors. With the changes in the publishing, globalization, the internet and ebooks, the possibility of fame appears within the grasp of people who self-publish a book. Some of these new ebook authors have used the new digital channel to become wealthy. Have they also become famous? Not unless you confuse being well off with being famous. Most of the ebook self-published authors remain obscure and as poor as when they started their book. But dreams are hard to kill despite the reality fame rarely settles on the shoulders of most of us. And when it does, choosing to live with Simeon’s prostrate or Amis’ teeth, we’d be hard pressed to make a decision knowing it was going to be very public.

With millions chasing the holy grail of celebrity status, it is interesting when an author decides to take his or her career in just the opposite direction: to become invisible, a cipher, a shadow without substance except the body of work. There are the famous recluses like J.D. Salinger who wrote The Catcher in the Rye, whose fame rested on that book and his decision to shut himself away from the world.

Timothy Mo, another reclusive author, appears as if hatched fresh from a mysterious cobwebbed warehouse lined with coffins either in Hong Kong or Manila once a decade or so to launch a book before retreating back into the shadows. Pure, Mo’s latest book set in Thailand is already making noises in London. For me, the recluse author is a game plan to maintain fame in another more perverse way. There is no halfway house in the invisible author racket. An author either disappears or he doesn’t. That is how ‘pure’ works. Living underground like a Cicada and emerging with a loud song that drowns out the other insects every decade isn’t disappearing. That is clever advertising.

It is said that the Gone with the Wind, which won the author Margret Mitchell the Pulitzer Price in 1936, was the only novel ever written by Mitchell as the rest of her life was spent answering fan mail. That is one price to pay for fame—work to answer every inquiry from readers, reviewers, and journalists until they lower your cold, blue body into the grave.

What I find far more interesting is someone who was famous or near famous, erasing themselves from the public; no images, no email, no Facebook or Twitter account, and becoming anonymous. Fame isn’t for everyone. Having total strangers write you, stop you on the street, phone you, and write you with questions and advice is a great way to see the entire day of writing being put off until tomorrow.

I recently tried to look up an old friend in Vancouver who was a well-known screenwriter for TV, wrote some movies, a successful play, and had been activity in the affairs of the writing community, serving on a number of boards and committees. I’d known Michael for years but had lost contact. All I could find on Google was that he had died in Vancouver mid-year 2010. There was one small obit. I clicked on Google images. Zero. How could that be possible?

Michael wasn’t an obscure wannabe writer but a sought after, successful professional writer with many credits to his name. He was someone well known in Canada. He would have attended parties, conferences, been around on movie sets—all the places where people take pictures. I saw him at such events. In all of my moves, I am certain my photographs of him have long ago vanished. I last saw him and his wife in Vancouver in about 1985.

This is the digital age, I told myself. He’s bound to have enough photographs to fill a moving van. Wrong. I couldn’t find a single photograph of him on the internet. Knowing Michael, I can only think he worked to achieve this goal. He must have planned to ‘disappear’ from the planet, leaving no trace of his image in the public domain. I have asked a number of people and still haven’t found anyone who can explain to me how Michael could have erased his images from every website on the internet.  He lived well into the digital age. But in Michael’s case, there isn’t even an image on IMDB though all of his TV and movie credits are listed.

Michael’s successful disappearance into a visual blank screen is an accomplishment. I smile when I think of him vanishing like a magician. Fame wasn’t anything that ever concerned him. He didn’t drink from that well of public recognition; he never got drunk on that strong brew of being a public figure. That drink which nourishes the narcissistic personality disorder never passed his lips. I admired Michael years ago, and I admire his way of leaving the stage empty except for his work.

His way of going isn’t mainstream. The current obsession with fame is further evidence of something more disturbing. The desire for fame is another symptom to be added to long list of symptoms that define the narcissistic personality.

  • Reacts to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation
  • May take advantage of others to reach his or her own goal
  • Tends to exaggerate their own importance, achievements, and talents
  • Imagines unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty, power, intelligence, or romance
  • Requires constant attention and positive reinforcement from others
  • Easily becomes jealous
  • Lacks empathy and disregards the feelings of others
  • Obsessed with oneself
  • Mainly pursues selfish goals
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Is easily hurt and rejected
  • Sets unrealistic goals
  • Wants “the best” of everything
  • Appears as tough-minded or unemotional

My personal literary hero is H.F. Saint, the author of Memoirs of an Invisible Man. The author had worked on Wall Street. The novel was his first and only. He must have written it at night after selling crappy bonds to people who wanted to become rich and famous. Everyone has the dream of going home and writing the novel that makes them rich. And famous.

Saint not only finished his novel; he hit big time, like a walk on to the New York Yankees who hits a homerun with the bases loaded his first time at the plate. The crowd roars. Memoirs of an Invisible Man was made into a successful movie and H.F. Saint received a large amount of money—the Fuck You Amount—from the movie deal that allowed him to become invisible. And that’s what happened. Saint resigned from his Wall Street job, left New York and moved to France, and as far as anyone knows, he never wrote another book.

He had hit that freak home run, ran the bases and kept on running out of the stadium and disappeared through the parking lot never to be seen again. Like Michael, my friend from Vancouver, you’ll find very little about H.F. Saint, who became the invisible man. No photographs. No interviews or profiles.  No life as a famous recluse railing against the publishing industry. Just a long silence.

The author of Memoirs of an Invisible Man chose to cast aside fame for the luxury of an anonymous life, one without strangers stopping him on the street, writing him, or inviting him to this party or a talking engagement. H.F. Saint escaped all of that because he chose to do so.  On Wikipedia, in the place reserved for the author’s photograph, is a painting of a suit and tie with no head. A perfect testament to the book and author.

My fear is that one-day a reality film crew flush with cash and a broadcast contract will ambush Saint on some country lane in France and will have footage of the author, dragging him back into the public domain. I hope that these filmmakers fail. H.F. Saint who is the D.B. Cooper of the literary world should continue to remain an enigma. We should preserve his mystery for the same reason we preserve historical buildings. The past without a mystery or two isn’t a foreign country worth visiting.

We need our invisible men to stay invisible as the whole world is already rendering everyone far too visible. They are our small reserve of mystery against the day when everyone’s information is accessible to anyone else. That’s not exactly the same as becoming famous. But it blurs the line between what we now think of public and private lives.

While the American from Kentucky who talked about the American youths embracing of fame as their goal, I would offer an alternative role model. The one H.F. Saint showed was possible. The one my friend Michael opted for as well. The best life is lived beneath the radar. They must have known in their bones that the fame seekers carried the very symptoms that are anti-life, that destroy the creative process, the psychological damage that no amount of been celebrated can repair. In being invisible they found something far more important than fame, they found freedom. That is hitting the ball out of the park.

Posted: 4/5/2012 9:42:43 PM 

 

 

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