Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Travel crime: reading 'local' mystery fiction

Well, later this week I'm off on my Christmas/summer holiday (while some of you are enjoying a traditional white Xmas, it is of course summer down in this part of the world). Early Saturday morning I hop on a flight to Bangkok, via Brunei, to start three and a bit weeks of touring around Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It should be terrific. I'd say 'all going to plan', but let's be honest, some of the very best travel memories and stories come from the off-plan moments.

Over the past couple/few years, as I've been doing lots of travel, I've started to look for crime fiction set in the locations I'm travelling - preferably written by locals, where possible. Last year I spent Christmas in Germany, and read SELF'S MURDER by Bernhard Schlink (translated from the German). While travelling through Egypt in December and January, I picked up a copy of THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS by PC Doherty, and read that. And when stopping over in the Kuala Lumpur airport on the way home, I went searching for Malaysian crime fiction. Finding none, I settled for BANGKOK EIGHT by John Burdett (I had spent about 30mins in Bangkok airport too) - a very fortuitious purchase - it was excellent.

So, with a Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam itinerary on the cards, I've been wondering about crime fiction set in Southeast Asia. Clearly Burdett is an uber-terrific option when it comes to evoking a rich sense of Bangkok and Thailand. But what about Cambodia and Vietnam? Are there any local authors with books in English translation? Are there any English-speaking authors who've set good or great crime novels there?

A quick surf of the Internet, and I haven't come up with much so far, to be honest. In terms of Cambodia, it seems one of my favourite 'new to me' authors of 2010, Shamini Flint, will set her upcoming Inspector Singh tale there (A DEADLY CAMBODIAN CRIME SPREE), but that doesn't come out until April next year - so I'll be waiting a little while.

With a bit more digging, I came across a thriller novel set in Cambodia's capital, released earlier this year: PHNOM PENH EXPRESS by Johan Smits, a Belgian author who has been living for several years in Cambodia as an ex-pat. I'm quite excited about this one, especially by some comparisons to Burdett. Apparently PHNOM PENH EXPRESS is available from Monument Books in Phnom Penh, so I'll have to see if I can arrange a little detour while we're in the city, if I can't get my hands on it beforehand. You can read more about PHNOM PENH EXPRESS here.

UPDATE: According to Smit's Facebook page for the book, it is now available in Thailand as well, including from Bangkok airport - so I will try to get my hands on a copy before I enter Cambodia. I have a few hours to kill in the airport until Helen arrives from London anyway.

When it comes to Vietnam, well, I'm not quite as sure. You'd think there'd be plenty of crime and thriller novels set there. There are certainly many crime fiction heroes with a connection to Vietnam, often as returned GIs (eg Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, who was a "tunnel rat"), but what about crime fiction actually set in Vietnam? I guess Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN is something of a possibility? Any other suggestions?


  1. I only have a further Thailand suggestion for you Craig - Timothy Hallinan's series about an ex-pat PI living in Thailand - I've only read one but it was brilliant and I have more here to read. Hallinan is American but has lived on/off in SE Asia for many years.

    Have a great trip :)

  2. Have a great trip, Craig. Thanks for the info on the Shamini Flint-A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree.
    My son has visited Cambodia three times, and Vietnam once in the past 15 months. He loved Cambodia, but did not enjoy Vietnam as much.

  3. Craig - Enjoy your trip! I like the idea of soaking up atmosphere by reading local crime fiction, too. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

  4. Hi Craig hope you have a great trip. For a book set in Vietnam you could try 'The Cleaner' by Brett Battles. He is an American writer. The story is about a black ops agent that has to go on the run and winds up in Vietnam but that is only the beginning of his problems... A good easy read. I brought my copy in New Zealand a few years ago.

  5. Try the "Dr. Siri Paiboun" series by Colin Cotterill. A great read

  6. Good luck on your trip. I like the basis of this post, so I recently purchased Blood, Money, Power by Michele Marie Tate, a Portland-based writer, to accompany me on my vacation to Oregon for the upcoming winter holiday. Anyway, have fun and be safe!

  7. u can by phnom penh express at the airport of phnom penh