Friday, February 11, 2011

9mm interview: John Burdett

After a bit of a breather, following the 44 instalments of 9mm quickfire author interviews that were shared here on Crime Watch during March to November 2010, it is time to once again polish off the gun and point it towards a creator of tales mysterious and thrilling. Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback on the series so far - I really appreciate it, as I know many of the participating authors do as well.

For those new to this rodeo, 9mm consists of the same 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. It’s been fun seeing the variety of answers the authors give to the questions - both in terms of great personal anecdotes and insights, and comparing the influences etc that many authors share. I hope you have all been enjoying the series as much as I (and the authors) have been. Suggestions are always welcome. .

To kick-start 9mm circa 2011, I am very pleased to share the thoughts and answers of another great international author with you; John Burdett, the creator of the truly excellent Thailand-set Sonchai Jitpleecheep series. I discovered the Jitpleecheep books when I picked up a copy of BANGKOK EIGHT, the first in the series, from the Kuala Lumpur airport last January. It was a fortuitous purchase, as it was one of the very best debut novels I’ve read in several years. There is just such a great mix of intriguing and unique characters, vivid settings, stylish writing, and exciting action, while the narrative also at the same time raises some thought-provoking questions on a number of levels - about ‘life, the universe, and everything’.

Just a terrific book - you can read my review here. I read, and equally loved, BANGKOK HAUNTS (the third in the series) while I was travelling through Southeast Asia over the past Xmas/New Year holiday period. If you haven’t tried Burdett’s books yet, then do yourself a favour and go grab one. Burdett is considered Thailand's 'top thriller writer'. English by birth, he started working in Asia for a Hong Kong-based British law firm, before switching to writing. He has spent many years living and working in Asia, and now divides his time between Thailand and France.But for now, the lawyer turned novelist stares down the barrel of 9mm.

Crime Watch 9mm author interview: John Burdett
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?I would have to say Arkady from the Martin Cuz Smith books, especially Gorky Park. He has a lot in common with Sonchai in that his author hails from a distant land and he does not get on too well with the system he was born into.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?The first books I ever loved were boys' books about adventures in exotic lands - It was long before I learned to remember the names of authors. In teens I discovered D.H. Lawrence and became very excited at an English author who so well understood human sensuality.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?I did a lot of law work with deprived monorities of one kind or another, this included a few articles in the altenative press at the time.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?In Bangkok I play a lot of pool, not because I'm good at it (I'm not) but because it's a great way of forgetting about writing and bonding with the locals who are the prime source of my stories. In France I work on the house and garden.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Eat directly on the street. Street hawker food can be the best Thai food, but visitors fear the conditions might not be hygienic. Actually, such places are probably more reliable that five star restaurants, since everyone sees everything the cook does.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?It would have to be someone from the distant past: Richard Burton, Alan Bates, Peter O'Toole - those kinds of guys

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The last one is always my favorite. I've just finished the next, which is to be called Vulture Peak, and will hit the stores this year or next. The most recent remains in my mind and assumes enormous importance, until I'm able to forget it altogether and concentrate on the next.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?I was in a state of shock. I'd wanted to be an author since I was about twelve, and I was just forty when my first novel came out, so there was quite a build up. In the end the experience was quite surreal: I had to adjust from being someone who always wanted it to someone who had it: only a psychiatrist could begin to untangle the psychic revolution that entails. Euphoric, of course, then the let down: it was great but not the meaning of life.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?At a book shop in Denver. A wonderful little old lady asked: "Are there any more flesh eating worms in this your latest book?"
I was relieved to be able to reply: "No, ma'am, no more worms in this one."
She said: "Oh, that's such a shame, I love that kind of stuff."

Thank you John Burdett. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.

Have you read BANGKOK EIGHT, or any of the other Sonchai Jitpleecheep books? What do you think of Burdett's writing? Do you like crime fiction set in 'exotic' places like Southeast Asia? Have you visited Bangkok? Comments appreciated.


  1. Craig - Thanks, as always, for sharing this interview. I really do enjoy learning about authors this way. These are some great answers, too!

  2. I'm just pleased so many great authors (yourself included) are so generous with their time, considering I'm just a little blog down in the bottom corner of the world.