We would welcome another book from Gregory Bracken, whose well-written Unusual Wealth (1998, ISBN 974-8303-36-5) weaves a tale of architectural intrigue set within the concrete and metal towers of Bangkok.
John Burdett’sBangkok 8 (2003, ISBN 1-4000-3290-3) is a police novel, the action of which takes place in a Bangkok precinct.
Burdett’s latest, Bangkok Tattoo (2005, ISBN 0593-053990) is a well-written novel that contains nice bits of information on Thai culture and business that make the book an enjoyable read.
The tam sak ritual (p. 22-23), the eucalyptus con in the northeast (p. 91), and the reference to a “Hollywood film star” who pressured a sports retailer to stop employing children, and thus added to the statistics of those employed in the sex trade, add interest to the story line.
We personally would have preferred a stronger ending, but all-in-all, enjoyed the book.
Those fortunate enough to find any of John Cadet’s books in used bookstores will be in for a real treat.
The former editor of the Bangkok World newspaper, Cadet has lived in Thailand since 1961, and is an exceptionally astute observer of the inner-workings of Thai and expat societies.
Venusberg Revisited (1987, ISBN 974-87580-01-1) contains eleven exceptional short stories, many written in first person.
Those written from the Thai point of view are among the most powerful, and exposing the naïveté of Westerners, in dating, business, politics, and volunteerism, is perhaps Cadet’s strongest suit.
The book is well written, insightful, and occasionally shocking.
We couldn’t put it down.
Michael Smithies is a veteran observer of the Thai scene, and he deftly exposes the seamy and beautiful elements of her population and culture in two expertly crafted books of short stories, Bight of Bangkok (1993, ISBN 9971-64-316-2) and Gulfs of Thailand (1999, ISBN 974-7100-89-4).
Both books primarily consist of fictionalized accounts of stories that actually appeared in Bangkok’s newspapers.
While “Bight” is our favorite, both are well worth finding, filled with wonderful and often tragic stories of misguided farang, conniving Thais, Thais with good hearts, and farang trying to do their best in a land at cultural loggerheads with their own.
Stephen Paul Cohen’sJungle White (1999, Silkworm Books, ISBN 974-7100-70-3) takes place primarily in Bangkok and in the Golden Triangle, delving into matters relating to drugs, politics, and the relationship between the underworld, the police, and the military.
Smiles of Deceit (2003, ISBN 974-272-692-2), by Jim Cornick, treads the uncomfortable path woven by a punter who dates two women simultaneously.
Philip J. Cunningham takes a bold new approach to the Bangkok Fiction genre in Peacock Hotel (2004, ISBN 974-92289-8-7), taking on trendy Thai high-society types, and eschewing descriptions of the sex act.
The author deftly pokes behind the curtain of homelessness in Bangkok, and features the fallen Siam Intercontinental Hotel as the backdrop for much of the action.
We suspect that “Lung David,” author of Just Another Girl (2002, ISBN 974-90249-5-8) is an Australian or Brit well-educated in the processes by which an Isaan girl makes her way from village to the nightspots of Bangkok.
Of particular interest is the means by which a very young girl is sold into servitude by her parents to restaurant owners in a distant village, and works to repay the debt.
The process is later replicated to include adult venues.
The personae of village parents is characterized authentically, as is the excursion into Isaan-Farang inter-familial expectations.
David’s Quest for Katoeys (2004, ISBN 9-7492-46568-0) presents the tale of an author obsessed with interviewing ladyboys, who doesn’t seem to be brave enough to enter ladyboy clubs alone.
He uses his well-endowed female housekeeper as a go-between, doesn’t sleep with her, yet proclaims his heterosexuality seemingly on every day.
The book ends with the situation being pretty much the same as at the beginning of the book, and the book offers the reader less understanding of the ladyboy experience than Richard Totman’s well-researched non-fiction book The Third Sex.
Having a press run of only 1000 copies, John Hinds’ The Rust Within(1995, ISBN 974-210-65-2) isn’t the easiest book to find.
His book, however, is a fascinating chronicle of an Isaan girl being lured into Yakuza Japan.
Although character development is not the strong point of the book, Hinds is an exceptional storyteller, and he clearly has done his research on the methods by which Yakuza interact with Thai and Japanese entities to enact a successful girl trade within Japan.
Michel Houellebecq’s darkly tragic Platform (2002, ISBN 0-099-43788-0) is masterfully-written, and politically topical.
The author is an international fiction writer of note beyond the Bangkok Fiction genre, whose psychological observations are piercing.
One of the best of the bunch, it begs to be read in one sitting, even at 362 pages.
Those wishing to find a blending of Victorian romance, historical fiction, and Bangkok Fiction genres may enjoy Caron Eastgate James’The Occidentals (1999, ISBN 974-8237-34-6), a twisted tale of internecine romance.
Taking place primarily in 19th century Bangkok, the book is interesting for its description of the Bangkok life of early expats, though the love story becomes increasingly far-fetched.
The Pole Dancer (ISBN 988-97752-1-2), penned in 2004 by “R.D. Lawrence,” relates the story of an international assassin plying his trade between Thailand and Malaysia.
While books falling into the genre of Bangkok Fiction tend to place the majority of the action in Bangkok, other fictional works having similar themes are commonly set in other Southeast Asian countries.
Generally, these books typically feature Western expat protagonists, international intrigue, easy eroticism and complex women, amidst the confluence of honesty and corruption.
Nicolas Merriwether’s Apsara Jet (2001, ISBN 0-9708862-0-9) details a cargo flight gone wrong, on a twisted path through Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma.
Merriwether is a pilot himself, and provides interesting flight information relating to weather, controls, and the capability of the ill-fated DC-8.
Of particular interest is the social interaction between the protagonists and their tribal hosts, which will amuse some readers, and inflame others.
Some of the camaraderie takes place in the thinly disguised Thermae, and Nana Entertainment Plaza, and is a must-read for lovers of the genre.
Ian Quartermaine’sSleepless in Bangkok (1985, updated in 2003, ISBN 974-88460-0-8) is a fast-paced adventure novel of political intrigue and high-action romance, taking place in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the Golden Triangle area.
Quartermaine’s knowledge of how things are done under -- and apart from -- the codified legal system will be of interest to readers new to the genre, and his occasional wisecracks, poking holes in Western sexual mores, make for more than an occasional chuckle.
John Ralston Saul is a Candian expat, Asia hand, and essayist, whose The Next Best Thing (1986, ISBN 0-586-06871-6) tells the fast-moving tale of a complex heist of rare Buddha images from Bagan, through the Golden Triangle.
His other books with scenarios in Thailand include Baraka (1983) and The Paradise Eater (1988). Visit his website at www.johnralstonsaul.com
Steve Rosse, formerly of The Nation and the Phuket Gazette newspapers, is a short story writer who evidences considerable depth of understanding of the Thai-Expat dynamic.
His stories are alternately sweet and sardonic, lush with irony and, to use that old Portuguese word that doesn’t have an equivalent in English, saudade.
Thai Vignettes (2005, ISBN 974-93439-2-1) is a collection of fiction and non-fiction stories, with a host of memorable characters and stories, most of which are fewer than six pages in length.
Eight stories we found particularly compelling, none more so than the beautifully written and tragic ‘Two for the Road.’
Don’t miss Rosse’s Expat Days: Making a Life in Thailand (2006, ISBN 974-94775-3-7), a non-fiction book reviewed on our History and Culture pages, in ‘The Expat Experience’ book pages.
Frank Visakay’s Everything But Die (2001, ISBN 974-07-1631-8) starts off in shaky fashion, but rights itself soon enough, in a thriller which takes place in Bangkok, Burma, and the Golden Triangle.
Overall, we’d have preferred the bad guys to have been less chatty about political objectives with folks they’re about to kill, a characteristic more associated with comic books than novels.
Visakay throws inside jokes here and there, including a reference to Christopher Moore’s detective Calvino, and naming one of the baddies, Matt Jacobson, after his writing partner in a Cambodian guidebook venture.
Visakay includes the character of Aung San Suu Kyi, and details nicely the twisted mélange of relationships among governmental and traditional groups vying for primacy along the Thai-Burmese border.