Two writers who set mysteries in
foreign settings that you should read: James Church and Matt Beynon
Sarah Weinman is one of the most
thoughtful and insightful crime fiction critics, and if youre not reading her
Confessions of an
Idiosyncratic Mind you are missing a gem of a
website. Recently Sarah interviewed James Church who writes a series set in
North Korea with features police inspector O. Ive read A Corpse in the Koryoand highly recommend it. Only someone with first hand
information about North Korea could hope to produce a book with such splendid
details about the functioning of the bureaucracy and working relationship among
the North Koreans living in a totalitarian state.Church is direct about what he sees as
the keys involved in understanding the country: North Korea is a bureaucracy,
it is Asian, and it is a totalitarian state inhabited by human
Recently Colin Cotterill and Timothy Hallinan were in
Tim as a thriller set in Bangkok
that will be published in New York in August 2009. Breathing Water is getting a lot of advance rave
reviews.Tims earlier two novels
set in Bangkok have received a great amount of attention; deservedly so as his
Bangkok series shows how a master can take menace to a new level. Colins
publisher Soho Crime is also releasing in August The Merry Misogynist. Dr. Siri Paiboun, the aged and antic national coroner of
mid-1970s Laos, continues this internationally prize winning series to bring in
thousands of around the world.
Martin Amiss article in the Guardian explores the life and writing of
This observation caught my
His [J.G. Ballards]imagination
was formed by his wartime experience in Shanghai, where he was interned by the
Japanese. He was 13 at the time and took to the life in the camp as he would to
a huge slum family. But it wasn't just the camp that formed him - it was the
very low value attached to human life, something he saw throughout his
childhood. He told me that he'd seen coolies beaten to death at a distance of
five yards from where he was standing, and every morning as he was driven to
school in an American limousine there were always fresh bodies lying in the
street. Then came the Japanese. He said "people in the social democracies have
no idea of the daily brutality of parts of the east. No they don't, actually.
And it's as well that they don't.
Matt Beynon Rees who writes the international award winning
Omar Yussef series interviewed me recently. If you havent read The Collaborator of Bethlehem,you are missing an insiders view of the
dynamics behind the internal violence inside of Palestine. Hes walked the
streets and knows the people, their history, culture and language. And his books
give you a dimension of the human face behind the news
Adaptation to the world has always
been, Darwin teaches us, a struggle. And uphill battle where casualties are the
norm. Many fall aside. And when that happens, it is often labeled failure to
adapt. Terry Eagleton has written a piece that links the role of capitalism to
the shedding of beliefs in the sacred. The contradiction is in the continuing
emotional resonance of metaphysical values in daily life--whether they become a
source of inspiration or one of parody. Jon Stewarts Daily Show popularity
suggests the preference is leaning toward the latter.
The Western audience in search of
spiritual transcendence, at least in the traditional ways, has increasingly
shrunk in influence in the modern secular world. Their voice is one voice among
many. Again in the West, the central role and legitimacy of the institutions
traditionally vested with a monopoly over spiritual values have eroded over
time. The question is what scope is left for such institutions to play in the
modern political world. That is the essential unanswered (and perhaps at his
juncture unanswerable) question of our time. How it is officially answered is
the line drawn in the sand between cultures.
Some in the media have called it
Black Songkran. Demonstrations over the traditional Songkran festival turned
ugly and violent. Soldiers, APCs, and tanks were in the streets. Buses burnt.
Confrontation found the Reds and the military and police on opposite sides (most
of the time). Then suddenly it was over as quickly as it started. The
demonstration was called off and the protesters in the thousands who had camped
out at Government House left, loaded into buses provided by the
This is a blog devoted to books.
There are a number of such political blogs that have given a blow-by-blow
account of the events over the last week. Foremost would be Bangkok Pundit which
contains a good source of foreign reporting, local Thai newspaper and TV reports
as well as the English language newspapers in Bangkok. If you scroll down, you
will find a number of related blogs that present points of view on the current
had the chance a couple of weeks ago to go on a Chao Phraya River cruise. My
Swiss friend Marcel Emmenegger (making the victory sign) was the organizer,
assembling people to visit Punntara Resort. Our group was composed of friends of
Marcel and Khun Peerapong.
Bangkok has a large expat population.
No one can hope to know everyone living here. Sometimes people slip through the
cracks that you wished youd had sat down for a couple of hour conversation.
Only you find out about them too late. A case in point is playwright and
filmmaker Ronald Tavel. He died a few days ago on a flight
from Berlin to Bangkok. Apparently hed been a resident in Thailand for a dozen
This is from the New York
Ronald Tavel, a playwright and
screenwriter who brought a bawdy sense of the outrageous to some of Andy
films and helped mold the Off Off Broadway avant-garde theater movement in the
1960s and 70s, died Monday on a flight from Berlin to Bangkok. He was 72 and
had lived in Bangkok for the past 12 years.
It's easy to see why Moore's books
are popular: While seasoned with a spicy mixture of humor and realism, they
stand out as model studies in East-West encounters, as satisfying for their
cultural insights as they are for their hard-boiled action.
Back Jack is out in hardback edition published by Atlantic Monthly Press in
October 2009 and in the UK by Atlantic Books in December 2009.
A certain marketing idea may have
started with Disneyland. And that idea is roughly a place must have
entertainment value in order to be worth spending money to visit. It should be
fun for the entire family. Nothing scary or too real ever makes the grade; that
puts people off. What people want is safe, clean, and with benches to sit. Never
mind that the fairy tale story castle the children love is not remotely like any
The same fate is destined for old
battlefields. I suspect that the recent construction to turn the Dien Bien Phu
battlefields into tourists attractions can find examples elsewhere. Call it the
war of the battlefields where each site, village, province and country seeks to
out flack its competitors by offering a more entertaining tour of a place where
a historic battle was fought.
Several people have asked about the
video camera that I used in Vietnam and Hawaii. It is a small and inexpensive
camera called Flip.
It cost about $125 and may be one
of the best investments Ive made recently. I carry it everywhere. There is a
new upgraded model that has high definition. If I were to buy it again, Id
spring for the upgrade.
There are several excellent
features. First it is small and fits easily into your shirt pocket. Second it is
very easy to use. Third, it has a USB port built-in so that you stick it into
your laptop and upload the footage and are ready to shoot again. Fourth, it
shoots up to sixty minutes. Fifth, no fuss with batteries as it charges through
the USB port straight to the camera.
One of the features of living in
Asia is how people share public space. Behavior in private spaces (homes and
offices) is never a reliable indicator on how people react in the presence of
strangers in a public place.
In Thailand it is rare for a
motorist to stop at a Zebra crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross. Drivers
cut in front of each other, drive through red lights, block intersections, drive
on the wrong side of the road, etc. In Vietnam, by comparison, the mix of
vehicles requires more tolerance on the part of motorists. Hundreds of bicycles
and samlors share the limited public space with cars, vans, taxis, and trucks.
As in Thailand, if you are on foot, then you must wait your chance to slip
through a narrow gap as the traffic comes to a halt.
Anywhere in Asia, the wet market is
the place to find what remains of traditional ways of shopping for food. Hanoi
is no exception and the wet market was one of the first places I set out to
find. No matter how low the prices are in mega supermarkets in places like Tesco
or Costco, something has been lost in the shopping experience that comes with a
market where the stalls are staffed with local vendors selling fresh produce,
meat, chickens and fish.
I spent five days on the Big Island
attending the Left Coast Crime 2009 convention. About 300 plus people attended.
Writers included those who write cozy mysteries to thrillers. We stayed at a
resort outside of Kona one of those complexes that could have been anywhere.
That didnt matter much as the point of the trip wasnt sight seeing. Though my
two friends Terry and Tito did their best to show me around the Island. Terry
has a coffee farm and I spent sometime at the farm with Terry and his wife Susan
and son Sonny. On the way back to the conference, Terry pulled over to the side
of the road and picked enough fruit to last me the five days of the
In late February I was in Hanoi and
Dien Bien Phu. My friend, Canadian literary critic, publisher and author, George
Fetherling suggested the adventure. George is finishing a book on the French
colonial period in Indochina. Dien Bien Phu was where it came apart with a
massive defeat at the hands of the Vietminh in 1954. We walked the hills where
the French had set up trenches and fortifications. They were heavily out gunned
and out manned. The surrender after about 3 months of battle remains a
historical watershed in Southeast Asian history. I recorded the trip with a
series of videos.
I had mentioned to George that in
1990 when I made my first trip to Saigon, it was as if the war had ended a
couple of weeks before. Dark, grim, and improvised. There were beggars and
homeless people everywhere. No one had any money. It was a nightmarish, noir
place. The absence of streetlights made nighttime navigation on the streets a
challenge. I saw very few private cars in 1990. But there were UN and NGO
vehicles. The Vietnamese were extremely resourceful, crafting vehicles out of
spare parts and scrap metal. These Mad Max vehicles belched bluish gray smoke
and, of course, had no lights. I spotted a variation of such a vehicle outside
the market in Hanoi. Only the vehicle in the video clip is too well made to
properly belong in the garage along side of to the old Saigon road warriors but
it does give an idea of the kind of transportation that one found on the roads
in 1990.... Read More>>
I arrive in
Honolulu on Thursday afternoon. I hope to see friends at the Sala Thai
restaurant Thursday evening from about 6.30 p.m. onward. If you have books you'd
like me to sign, please bring them along. I will also a few copies of Paying
Back Jack, Spirit House and The Risk of Infidelity Index.
I am looking forward to the evening. With Thai food and beer, what
better way to start the weekend a day early.
Breeze and Pou
Sala Thai is located at: 1333 Nu'uanu Avenue Honolulu, HI
96817 (808) 529-0308
Lets start with what many people
believe is the definition of creativity: someone who has a vivid imagination. No
one can say that is entirely wrong when checking the list of creative workers
above. But there are a few problems with the definition. While imagination is
useful and indeed necessary, it is not sufficient to define creativity. What is
missing? I have few ideas to share about the basic