Writers on Bangkok: John Burdett & Timothy Hallinan
Bangkok is the very definition of all things exotic — particularly to Western minds. So, it’s not surprising that British and American writers have found the city to be the perfect setting for tangled plots and conflicted detectives.
John Burdett’s gripping characterization set against Bangkok’s edgy, seductive cityscapes make his series athriller in every sense of the word. Detective, Sonchai Jitplecheep, is a devout Buddhist, who is far more concerned with the state of his Karma than with his status in any earthly realm. And yet, his police work constantly forces him to chose between his beliefs and the temptations derived from a totally corrupt environment. As the son of a Thai bar girl and a long-gone American G.I, he struggles with self-doubt and angst.
Readers first meet Jitplecheep, in Bangkok 8, when he’s investigating the double homicide of his partner, as well as a U.S. Embassy sergeant — both of whom were killed by a deadly cobra bite. Bangkok Tattoo revolves around the investigation of a murdered CIA operative. The prime suspect is a pretty bar girl, and Jitplecheep desperately wants to avoid falling in love with her.
In Bangkok Haunts, Jitpleecheep receives a horrifying video depicting the murder of an ex-lover, while in The Godfather of Kathmandu, the detective is working a heroin smuggling operation, headed by a Tibetan lama who plans to use the profits to invade China. Vulture Peak has Jitpleecheep setting up a massive sting operation to catch human organ traffickers.
The Bangkok Asset, Burdett’s latest Jitpleecheep thriller, recounts the “most horrifying technological innovation to make its way to the streets of Bangkok.”
John Burdett was originally a lawyer with practices in London and Hong Kong. He has lived in France, Spain, Hong Kong, and the U.K. but currently makes his home in both Bangkok and Southwest France. His favorite book about Bangkok is Very Thai by Philip Cornwell-Smith. “An entertaining and provocative look at Thai culture,” says Burdett.
Timothy Hallinan’s protagonist, Poke Rafferty, is a travel writer, whose series Looking for Trouble is for those who want to get away from the usual tourist routes and experience travel “at street level.” Readers first encounter Rafferty in A Nail through the Heart. He’s living in Bangkok, with a former nightclub dancer named Rose. But his domestic contentment is interrupted by two murders, one involving a Khmer Rouge torturer, the other a series of child-porn photos.
The Fourth Watcher finds Rafferty faced with a dangerous Chinese gangster, a North Korean counterfeiting operation, and a rogue CIA agent. Breathing Water opens with Poke Rafferty winning, in a late-night, alcohol-fueled poker game, the right to author the biography of an eccentric Thai billionaire. But, he has little time to celebrate his win – within hours he and his family are being threatened.
In The Queen of Patpong, Rafferty’s tranquil family scene is threatened once more by the appearance of a psychotic figure from Rose’s past. Hallinan writes that in this last novel he wants his readers to know “exactly where the young women who dance in the bars come from, how few choices they’ve had along the way, and how some of them come through it with their hearts and spirits intact. This is a serious book, not a ‘me-love-you-long-time’ exploitation.”
Hallinan has written three additional books in this series: The Fear Artist, For the Dead and The Hot Countries. Rafferty is “now married to Rose, the former ‘queen’ of the Patpong bars. The couple have adopted a daughter off the sidewalks, named Miaow. Rafferty finds family life in Bangkok to be more of an adventure than rough travel ever was.”
While in college, Tim Hallinan wrote songs and sang in a rock band. A number of his songs were recorded by well-known artists, including the platinum-selling group Bread. Hallinan began writing books while working in television. He has lived on and off in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years. He currently maintains homes in Bangkok as well as California with his wife Munyin Choy-Hallinan.
Hallinan’s favorite books about Bangkok are these:
Currency – by Zoe Zolbrod. Young lovers, in an attempt to raise quick cash, stumble into an international crime ring smuggling exotic animals.
Little Girl Gone – by Brett Battles . In his Jonathan Quinn series, Battles makes good use of his travel experiences to such destinations as Ho Chi Minh City, Berlin, Singapore, London, Paris, and Bangkok.