Bangkok Noir

Edited by Christopher G. Moore


John Burdett | Colin Cotterill | Stephen Leather | Vasit Dejkunjorn | Tew Bunnag | Pico Iyer | Christopher G. Moore | Alex Kerr | Timothy Hallinan | Eric Stone | Dean Barrett | Collin Piprell

First published in Thailand in 2011



Gone East by John Burdett

Inspector Zhang and the Dead Thai Gangster by Stephen Leather

Thousand and One Nights by Pico Iyer

Halfhead by Colin Cotterill

Dolphins Inc. by Christopher G. Moore

The Mistress Wants Her Freedom by Tew Bunnag

Hansum Man by Timothy Hallinan

Daylight by Alex Kerr

Death of a Legend by Dean Barrett

The Sword by Vasit Dejkunjorn

The Lunch That Got Away by Eric Stone

Hot Enough to Kill by Collin Piprell


Behind the Thai smile and the gracefully executed wai, in the near distance is another realm: the geography of conflict, personal grudges, anger, revenge, disappearances and violence. Where loss of face, personal rivalry and competition for power often have fatal consequences. The risk of danger, like an irregular heartbeat, is unpredictable. Most of the time the danger is out of sight, out of mind. But when it unexpectedly explodes, the victim goes down hard and doesn’t get up.

Glide along the daylight surface of Bangkok, and the gritty world of noir often seems light years away. The surface is polite, pleasurable and fun—sanuk. But dig deeper below the sanuk layer, and the tropical paradise reveals a far colder, damp darkness of lost souls— souls stranded, battered and estranged. Writers are often among the first to kick over that noir rock, and their readers watch as the spiders, scorpions and cockroaches scatter in all directions.

The dozen authors in Bangkok Noir lever their collective boot to that stone in the heart of the City of Angels. Hints of noir appear like blimps on the Bangkok radar screen. The members of local charities who cruise around in vans to collect the dead and injured are called body snatchers. Newspapers announce the latest official crackdowns, which in the past have been directed at bar closing hours, abortion clinics, car thieves, hired gunmen, speeders and underground lotteries. And whispers posted on the social networks speak of unofficial shakedowns. At every turn there is a new noir-like incident, such as the Bangkok temple morgue, found to contain two thousand aborted fetuses. Art follows such dark spaces of human activity. Already a horror movie about the morgue is in the works for 2011, titled 2002 Baby Ghosts. Noir in Bangkok happens fast. The subject of noir is often taken from the latest headlines of the Bangkok Post or The Nation. And of course the noir history of past coups looms, casting a long black shadow that feeds the fear of future coups.

The potential list of subjects is long, but the stories in this collection will give more than a few insights into the Thai noir world. The idea of the national sport, Muay Thai—a combination of ballet, boxing, kicking and kneeing—is pure noir. That’s the idea of sanuk dipped in bruises and blood. Muay Thai may be closer to assassination than normal boxing. Whatever it is (or isn’t), Muay Thai is the sport of noir. With ancient rituals and music the fighters perform before a huge, cigar smoking, game fixing, betting crowd, where gangsters, fraudsters, boiler room operators, bar owners and crooked cops and officials, wearing gold chains and amulets, gather. The kind of men who know each other’s birthdays and what’s expected in terms of keeping the wheels greased. Men and women with advance knowledge of who is going to win before the fight starts.

There is no consensus on the definition of “noir” that covers all cultures. Writers don’t agree on one version of noir, and photographers and painters translate noir into their own image of darkness. Slowly, a general idea of noir in Bangkok has emerged over the last ten years. The foreign and Thai artistic noir movement has been growing during this period. Ralf Tooten, an award-winning photographer, has captured Bangkok noir in his photographs (one of which graces the cover of this book). The artist Chris Coles has painted the faces of men and women who move through the Bangkok underworld. The authors represented in this anthology, foreigners and Thais, have contributed stories that create powerful images, bringing the Bangkok noir movement another step forward. Thais and foreigners live together inside the world of noir. These stories record their experience of Bangkok’s dark side.

Bangkok Noir contains twelve short stories by professional authors who have developed an international reputation for their writing about life in Asia. Not all of the writers in this collection are crime writers or even, normally, writers of fiction. What unites them is their knowledge of Bangkok, their depth of cultural understanding and their love of storytelling. As a group they are professional authors whose books are published in many countries and languages. You will find a diversity of original voices and perceptions of noir—as well as various approaches to tone, structure and characterization—in these deeply felt, insightful and thought-

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