The Monty Hall problem
involves choosing a door with a prize as opposed to a lion that will leap out
and eat you. When a crime has been committed, The Monty Hall problem provides
two doors to choose from: one gives the victim revenge against the perpetrator,
the other door requires the victim and perpetrator to reconcile.
What’s it going to be?
Will it be a knife or a wai (or handshake)?
One of the pre-election
promises of the opposition Thai political party is to grant amnesty for those
charged with crimes after the coup in September 2006. The premise is, if
elected, those on both sides of the political divide and their supporters who
face criminal charges will be granted a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Though the
details as to what conduct and what individuals is vague. Wiggle room is a Siam
twin with most amnesty proposals. Finding the Goldilocks just right spot is not
an easy task.
It is the election season
in Thailand and a former MP for Samut Prakan. (the Parliament was dissolved two
days ago) who is from the opposition party has been shot. The Bangkok
has run the story as No. 1 lead two days running. Everyone has a say about the
botched hit. The police are quoted as having increased “security and
surveillance for cash, contract gunmen, and firearms.”
That raises an interesting
question as to why the police don’t look for hitmen and firearms in the
non-election season. The more you read from police, military, political
officials, the more that catches your eye and imagination. There can be no other
place where fiction authors face such fierce competition from those employed by
Authors who write
crime novels keep an eye peeled on the crime news. Living in Thailand the best
crime reports are found in the Thai language press often accompanied by gruesome
photographs and more often by smiling uniformed police officers standing behind
suspects with that defeated, I am on my way to jail look.
Neither The Nation nor the Bangkok
Post cover the local crime beat. Unless there is a high-profile foreign
connection, the local crime news flows down the canal through Thai consciousness
without ever causing a ripple on tranquil lives of foreigners.
In the Vincent Calvino series the
private eye has a number of people watching his back: a Royal Thai police
colonel, his secretary and a friend or two. The idea of watching each other’s
back isn’t confined to crime fiction. It is the staple of most novels
everywhere. And there is a reason for the pervasiveness of protecting each
other, providing security and support to others. We can tell a great deal about
a man or woman by knowing something about the people who watch their
We can also tell a lot about a
novelist in the way he or she writes about human collaboration. Other species
collaborate but no species other than ours has refined collaboration and scaled
it beyond a handful of others. It is likely that the reason there are nearly 7
billions of us is a testament to our skill at collaboration on an epic
I grew up in a world where it was
expected that judges and juries would be neutral. That neutrality was an
essential mechanism to resolve conflicts. Countries were also neutral. Places
like Sweden and Switzerland had a long history of not taking sides, by staying
on the sidelines, as other European countries took off their gloves and brawled
in the streets.
I don’t recognize neutrality in the
modern world. I’ve been searching everywhere for the retreating remnants of that
defeated army called neutrality. People are not just expected but required to
take sides. “Either you’re with us or against us,” said that great American
philosopher George W. Bush. If there was ever a phrase that marked the end of an
era, it came the date that phrase was uttered.
What drives the current interest in
noir fiction is that the stories validate our worst fear. There are no longer
any heroes who will ride to the rescue, put things right between those in
conflict. What has happened to the heroes who rose above the crowd to serve the
large community interest? Or did those people always live deep in mythology and
not the real world?
I write a crime series about a
private eye, Vincent Calvino, who works inside a system of vanished heroes. Many
of the Calvino readers like the realism of the novels and critics have commented
on their authentic insight into Thai culture.
Crime authors are accustomed to
killing off characters in their novels. In this fictional world, a man’s life
might not be worth more than a dime on longshoreman’s payday. We have no problem
dispatching the evil, malignant, cruel, and selfish megalomaniac. In fact our
readers often like those scenes when the bad guys expiry date is reached. If we
reflect on this ‘liking’ for a moment, one has to admit there is a shared bond
between author and reader over the necessity of killing the bad and protecting
the good. We are natural born killers.
There are three intersecting worlds
of killers and victims. There is the individual killer. He or she might be a hit
man, a crazed ideological or religion-inspired zealot, an emotional hothead, a
cold-blooded gang leader looking to keep his control and authority. We search
out, arrest and punish these people. Then there are the corporate killers.
Profit motive leads to killing to meet the next quarter’s results or the share
price falls. Jay Gould, a famous American 19th century oligarch said, “I can
hire one half the working-class to kill the other half.” That profit at any cost
attitude hasn’t changed much in many parts of the world. And last, the killing
machine of last resort, the one we agree has the right to kill in our
name: the Nation-State.
As a special report to you, though, I wanted
to be the first to break the latest news. New legislation has been drafted and is ready to be sent to
Parliament concerning ‘face.’
The proposed legislation to
abolish the notion of ‘face’ will be announced before dissolution of the House
and fresh elections. Penalties for anyone asserting, claiming, or suing for loss
of face include five years imprisonment, confiscation of property, and fines up
to Baht 10,000.00 (per offence).
Khun Chaiwong, chairman of the Face
sub-committee has reported, that by
removing ‘face’ from the social, economic, and political sphere, all of the
problems of the past five years will be resolved. He says the deep
division in Thai society all goes back to the concept of face. His face, your
face, her face and on and on until someone’s face is smashed, lost, damaged,
dented, makeup smeared and the like.
“It can get very ugly,” said Khun
Chaiwong, glancing at his Rolex. The government whips have been reporting
tentative support, though amendments to exclude elected MPs (government MPs that
is) have been rumored.
"No face will ever be lost again"—the
campaign slogan you will hear everywhere come May. The opposition is expected to
reply with "the government that has stolen your children’s face doesn’t deserve
There is a struggle between
our sense of beauty and function. The way we draw judgments, make decisions, and
assign value correlates to how we balance the relative importance of the inside
of ‘something’ whether a building, a car, a book, a person, an animal and so on.
Criminals also make an evaluation based on the outside and
The amateur criminal who breaks into houses chooses the
target from the ‘outside’ or the appearance. On the assumption that a house that
looks rich on the outside is bound to have goods worth stealing on the inside.
The professional thief seeks to find out what is inside the house first. The
professional is inside orientated. He’s not stealing the beauty exterior; he’s
stealing something of value inside a structure that may or may not be a marvel
Last Thursday 17th March, we
launched an anthology titled: Bangkok Noir. Six of the twelve
authors were able to attend the launch at the Foreign Correspondents Club of
Thailand. We had a full house to an enthusiastic audience of expats and Thais.
As the editor of Bangkok Noir, I had some comments about the ‘noir’ movement
On Thursday 17th March Bangkok Noir
was launched at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand to a full house. Six
authors attended and spoke about the nature of noir and their experience of
writing in Bangkok. The writers attending were: John Burdett, General Vasit
Dejkunjorn, Tew Bunnag, Christopher G. Moore, Collin Piprell and Dean Barrett.
Colin Cotterill sent along a 'clone' who was exposed early on in the
The photo is courtesy of Voicu Mihnea Simandan, a writer who
lives in Bangkok.
Anyone who has been to law school
knows the dirty little secret of what is on offer. Three years of studying
thousands of short-stories, hardboiled domestic dramas, murders, corporate
fraud, corrupt cops and politicians, greedy heirs, disloyal partners, wives,
siblings, beatings, traps, smacks alongside the head, crashes and smashup and
that is just the first year.
Mindfulness and Murder is
a novel in the Father Ananda Mystery series. In the same series you can find
The Garden of Hell and Killer Karma. This is a great series and deserves a wider readership. If
you haven’t discovered Nick’s books, you are in for a pleasant surprise and good
On Tuesday 15 March Colin
Cotterill and Eric Stone came to the offices of Heaven
Lake Press to sign copies of Bangkok Noir.
After an emergency hospital visit for writer's cramp, the two authors were put
on IVs with a Singha drip attached. Though Colin demanded only water. Eric
returns to Los Angeles on Thursday so can't attend the launch at the FCCT at
8.00 p.m. And Colin is off to China to speak before an audience of millions who
have gathered to learn more about his Dr. Siri character.
Like most economic activities in
life the opportunity available is often linked with class. This is true in legal
transactions. The acquisition and merger deals aren’t being conducted by people
living in walkup projects in the Bronx or those living in the middle-class
‘burbs. Big deals are reserved for the big boys.
Good news on the film front.
On 8th March, Variety ran an article about FilmNation and the newly appointed
COO who has given full support to the production of Spirit House as a
feature film. Things are looking positive for the film going
Two emotions that underpin a
great deal of crime are a heady brew of greed stirred with desperation.
Occasionally you come across a crime in which greed and desperation also are
shared by the perpetrator and the victim. In this situation, it is difficult to
know who is the ‘real’ criminal and who is the ‘cutout’ who will take the wrap.
Baby 101 is a university course worth of tangled psychological,
economic, moral and political knots. Let’s have a look at the real-life case
study in Thailand as the centerpiece of Baby 101.
This book is not available on
Amazon. There is no ebook version to download. The authors don’t put their names
on the spine or the cover. Yet as events in the Middle East and elsewhere have
demonstrated, the Official Killers Handbook surfaces behind the news stories on
the Internet, newspapers and TV. Take the case of the CIA operative in Pakistan
who, turning to Chapter 8: How to Shoot People You’ve Identified as Bad Guys
When You Are Driving a Car. Raymond Davis, the operative, shot and killed two
men with a Glock handgun.
A Thai living in Boulder, Colorado
was sent to jail for one year and a day for various criminal violations
connected with his restaurant business. He was released on one million dollar
bail and told to report to prison in 15 days.
It wasn’t one law that he broke in
the United States. He managed to break a bunch of laws. And looking at the
charges, knowing how things work in Thailand, I have a feeling this guy may not
have seen all this bad news train coming at him. He may have suffered from a
corporate cultural bias that blinkered him to the reality of the new culture
where he was doing business.
Last time I was pulled over
at the elevated highway tollbooth on my way to Chon Buri province outside of
Bangkok, I was asked two questions: where was I going and who was I going to
see? First he checked the make, model and age of my car. And the important scan
of the windscreen to see if the necessary stickers have expired. Also, the
windscreen will display—for the well-connected—a status signal: it might be
military, police, an elite club, etc. Decals, small bronze fender icons, and
other artistic displays of power connections are important visual cues as to the
relationship of power to the person seated behind the wheel. These details are
digested at the point of contact with the police officer who wants to know whom
he’s dealing with before getting to the issue of law.