Thailand Footprint: People, Things, Literature, Music and Henry Miller too. Forget Yourself Here

Posts by Kevin Cummings

Soho Crime has a new collection of short stories featuring the following authors: Colin Cotterill, Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, Mette Ivie Harrison, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, James R. Benn, Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron and a Foreword and story by Peter Lovesey.

An excerpt from Colin’s Bio taken from his short story, There’s Only One Father Christmas, Right?:

Colin Cotterill is the author of twelve books in the critically acclaimed Dr. Siri Paiboun series, which is set in Laos in the late 1970s after the Communist takeover, and which feature a septuagenarian coroner-detective, Dr. Siri and an offbeat entourage of misfit associates who help him solve crimes. His fiction has won a Dilys Award and a CWA Dagger in the Library. He is also the author of the Jimm Juree Series set in Thailand. In addition, Colin is a professional cartoonist and has been involved in several non-profit and humanitarian organizations in Australia and Southeast Asia.

Colin lives at an undisclosed location in the south of Thailand with his wife and six, er, make that seven well-groomed dogs. He doesn’t do Facebook but his email is not hard to find if you want to reach him.

Author Colin Cotterill in the south of Thailand with a few of his dogs.

This is Colin’s second interview at Thailand Footprint:

KC: Let’s say you are God for a week or alternatively, a writer of fiction. Some say it’s close to being the same thing. How would you change the world?

cc: Last month I stood up to my knees in the surf and threw a bottle into the Gulf of Siam. It wasn’t revenge for all the trash that’s tossed up on our beach every monsoon season. It was a message. Yes, a message in a bottle. How romantic, you say. A German newspaper had asked arty people like myself to write a message for world peace and harmony, seal it in a bottle and dispatch it from the nearest body of water. When washed up and opened – hopefully two continents away rather than at the other end of our beach – the finder would contact the newspaper and the world would be united in love. Right, I didn’t expect that to work either. But it did give me a chance to spread Dr. Siri’s philosophy. Here’s his message. Do with it as you wish.

The world is vast and I am microscopic.

I despair because micro-me cannot rid the world of all its shit.

But I have a postage stamp of land and a shovel.

So, hear my mini-battle cry.

FORGET THE PLANET

SAVE THE GARDEN

KC: Tell me about your Mom, or if you prefer, your Mum. Just enough to make you uncomfortable. What did she teach you to do well? What did she teach you not to do?

cc: A few months after my thirteenth birthday I said ‘fuck’. It wasn’t the first time I’d said ‘fuck’ but on this occasion it was ill-timed and traumatic because I said it in front of my mother. I’d learned the word from our neighbour, Hilda who had an absentee husband, three kids and hygiene issues. Our block of terraced council houses did not lend itself to privacy and there was a lot that went on at Hilda’s that my mum would have preferred I didn’t pick up. The word ‘fuck’ was one such nasty and mum’s disappointment burned into me like a brand. In the sixty-two years that my mum and I were sharing a planet I never heard her swear. Even if ‘dash’ crept from her cake-not-rising lips, she would look around, blush and say ‘sorry’… even when she was alone. I’m not saying my mother succeeded in cleaning up my mouth. I played rugby and ‘gosh’ just didn’t cut it when you were forearmed by a gorilla. But she did teach me restraint. She also taught me to be nice to people I didn’t like (Bear this in mind, K). She was friendly to all our neighbours in our slummy little street, even Hilda. “A smile doesn’t cost anything”, she’d say. And when I’m riding my bicycle around the village I can always muster a free Ethel Cotterill smile. It works.

KC: You are involved in an anthology of short stories: The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers. What’s it all about? It’s November after all. 

cc: Actually, I haven’t read it. I can only tell you about my role in it. A couple of years ago, Soho got in touch and suggested the project. I was busy but I immediately agreed and, at the time, I didn’t know why. when I first wrote for Soho in 2004 it was really a little Mom and Pop publishing house in a crumbly old building in Chelsea. they had a full time staff of four.

Kyoko and I stopped by earlier this year on our way through New York. they’d moved. not far but certainly up. my first impression was how young the dozen or so full-timers were. how enthusiastic. how knowledgeable. I was really out of my depth. these days, I have trouble making complete sentences. I couldn’t even keep up with them drinking, and that’s my best card. the word they used a lot was ‘family’ and I guess they saw me as great-uncle Col. (all right. perhaps not great.) and they were right. they’re still a family business and I think that’s why none of the writers they contacted for The Usual Santas refused them. authors sign up for smaller houses like Soho because they don’t want to be a line in a barcode.

sual Santas

 A line-up of Soho Crime authors including Sujata Massey, Peter Lovesey, Stuart Neville, Cara Black, Martin Limon, and Henry Chang.

KC: In 1959 Ernest Hemingway wrote a preface for a collection of his writings titled: The Art of the Short Story. In it he says many people have a compulsion to write. He didn’t say writers he said, “people”. He goes on to say, “The compulsory writer would be advised not to attempt the short story.”  Do you agree with Papa? Are you a compulsory writer? How is the art of writing a short story different from crafting a novel? 

cc:Ernest (he prefers ‘ernie’ or ‘ern’) and I have had our differences over the years not least when discussing our personal philosophies of short story writing. he doesn’t answer my emails so much since he died but I take that to mean I win. my theory (not about the brontosaurus) is that everyone needs to write as therapy to combat life. not everyone can write a full length novel. it’s a commitment. it’s hard work. it’s annoying. but everyone has it in themselves to turn out short stories. whether they’re good or not is a moot point. it’s getting that baby out of you before it rots and clogs up your urinary tract that’s important.

I’m not a compulsory writer. in fact I’m totally optional. I write to eat. novels are hard work and they just show me how stupid I am. would that I were good enough a writer to stop writing full length books. but, short stories, those I can handle. when Minotaur Books decided my Jimm Juree series would not be paying their executive golf fees and ceremoniously dumped her, I took it upon myself to keep her alive. every two months I’m posting a jimm case file on the net for almost no cost at all. I like her and think that profitability should not be the end all of successful writing. she has fans, so like this I can keep feeding their addiction. I can pop out all the plot ideas I was deprived of sharing by corporate editors. and, when the JJ case files catch on and go viral, I can sit in my Jacuzzi and sip Chivas and say, ‘What do you know, Ern?’

KC: In addition to being an award winning novelist with a loyal following of fans you are also a professional cartoonist and even do the odd book cover now and then. Is cartooning an affliction or pure joy?  Which cartoonists influenced you when you were seventeen? Which ones interest you in your post mid-life crisis years? 

cc: I’ve always seen myself as a cartoonist who writes rather than a writer who draws. I grew up with comics like Beezer and Beano progressing through Mad magazine which left me spoiled for life. I loved Gerald Scarfe’s irreverent sketches of British idiocy and Ronald Searle’s cruel caricatures. I’ve cartooned all my life. I’ve been close to making a good career out of it but no coconut. fate was always ag’in me. a few years back I had it, the idea that would make me a household name; an editorial sports cartoon making fun of the day’s top sporting event called ‘New Balls Please’. I would syndicate it around the world. I put together a sample package with colourful thai stamps and sent them to every English language newspaper in the world. (absolutely true) I sat back and waited for fame to knock on my door.

The packages would have arrived exactly on or a few days after 9/11/2001. Fate.

KC: What is the last biography or autobiography you have read? 

cc: Next month is my writing month. for four weeks I’ll lock myself up in a cave and produce the next book in my Dr. Siri series. and it’s time to talk about the Vietnam war. I’ve been avoiding it for obvious reasons. lot of background reading. I’ve just finished two autobiographies of Americans involved in the conflict. one was ‘Sunsets, Bulldozers and Elephants’ by Howard Lewin who went to Laos with IVS and USAID and ‘A Code to Keep’ by Ernest C. Brace who spent 2,868 days as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. (some time in the cell beside John McCain’s.). I’m now thoroughly depressed. I’ve never spent a year in a bamboo cage. I did have quite a hard mattress at the OnOn hotel in Phuket once.

KC: Does writing a memoir interest you? If not, why not?

cc: Really, who’d want to read about me?

Rat catchers olympics

 

Colin Cotterill’s website, which includes a cool gallery of photos of his Mum can be found here.  

Colin Cotterill’s author page at Amazon can be found here. 

You can buy The Usual Santas here. 

Colin’s latest novel is The Rat Catchers’ Olympics (A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery). 

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Cartoon artwork by Colin Cotterill – Famous Last Selfies

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There are a lot of stories written in Thailand about bars, bar-girls, and love. And most of them are crap. This thought made me pause to consider the last good tale I had read which involved that invective trifecta. The answer came easily – it is Tristessa by Jack Kerouac. I read it this summer and again this month. The novella is 96 pages in length, a little longer than The Old Man and the Sea, and not as good.

But it is plenty good from the first sentence (which runs 189 words) on. It’s a story about Jack’s visit to Mexico City where he falls in love with a prostitute, an Aztec Indian girl with Billy Holliday eyes and a heavy appetite for heroin. An unrequited love story and an account of the futility of love, if not life itself. Kerouac was born to raise hell because he knows that he is “born to die”.

Jack falls hard for the junkie Tristessa – the writing is evocative, acutely descriptive, and glum. The novella has two parts. Part II resumes after Jack leaves Mexico City for one year only to return hoping for a delusional save of an uninterested but not uninteresting life. Jack as a Buddhist and Tristessa as a devout Catholic provide two different yet appealing points of view.

“She is giving me my life back and not claiming it for herself as so many of the women you love do claim.”

Written in the 1950s it’s a window into a time long gone and a story that lives on. What was a “new and hauntingly different novel” does not read as fresh as it must have almost 60 years ago but the haunting moments still persist. The novella was first published in 1960. Jack would not live to see another decade, dead at age 47 in 1969.

As the author states, ““The beauty of things must be that they end.” The beauty of Tristessa by Jack Kerouac is that it can be read more than once. I recommend doing just that.

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As editor Moniddepa Sahu says, these stories come ‘from the heart of Asia, not from the Western perspective trying to make sense of the quaint and the exotic. The home-grown Asian identity runs as a strong undercurrent, with no need to explain and offer apologetic footnotes.’

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The stories in this anthology by Asia’s best known and well-respected contemporary writers and promising new voices, offer fresh insights into the experience of being Asian. They transcend borders and social and political divisions within which they arise. While drawing us into the lives of people and the places where they come from, they raise uneasy questions and probe ambiguities.

Explore Asia through these tales of the profound, the absurd, the chilling, and of moments of epiphany or catharsis. Women probe their own identities through gaps between social blinkers and shackles. A young Syrian mother flees from war-ravaged Aleppo into a more fearsome hell. The cataclysmic Partition of India and its aftershocks; life and death in a no-man’s land between two countries; ethnic groups forced into exile; are all part of the wider Asian experience.

Life flows on in the pauses between cataclysms, bringing hope. Fragile dreams spread rainbow wings…

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Ajarn Doyle during his professorial days in Thailand

Robert Doyle has taken his own background of living in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Canada and crafted a protagonist into his own altered image in his latest novel, Ghosts in the Brothel. Detective Sergeant Tara Street is “A not-yet-over-the hill 42 year old with a bit of distinguished grey in her hair and a shitload of experience in a copper’s job.” She’s an extremely likable, believable and well written character, a good fit for the left leaning politics of Justin Trudeau. If I had to guess I’d say she’s probably a Fidel Castro fan to boot. Like the author she took a life transfer from Australia. She now works for the Toronto Police Department. Wherever she goes there she is, along with the types of characters she thought she had left behind in the Lucky Country. Male authors writing believable female protagonists is not an easy calling. Colin Cotterill gets it right with his female characters and Tim Hallinan has his moments but few other authors come immediately to mind. Doyle hits it deep out of Rogers Centre with Tara Street

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I was a bit concerned early-on with a rather clunky and crass metaphor involving the c-word as Americans refer to it or “cunt” as Brits say six times before lunch, but it was merely a setup by another detective for Tara to be properly disgusted. That’ll work.

Doyle has put together a layer-cake of a murder mystery, which gives the reader a taste of Australia, Toronto, Canada, Thailand, and the supernatural, with plenty of icing on top. I have long been a fan of Aussie slang and think my knowledge in that area is the duck’s guts, but I learned a few new ones along the way and appreciate the glossary at the back. Repetition is the key to learning.

“True Friends Stab You in the Front.”

Oscar Wilde, 1854 – 1900 (Heading of Chapter 26 in Ghosts in the Brothel)

Robert, depending on your point of view, has either the good fortune or misfortune to follow Elmore Leonard in my reading schedule (La Brava). Robert is not as good as Elmore. Who is? I’m not as good a book reviewer as Paul Dorsey but there is no reason why we shouldn’t take our swings. I’ll let Robert take some swings at this review later on if he chooses; it’s only fair. Coming in at almost 400 pages I think Ghosts in the Brothel could use a 100 page trim. The characters and settings are top notch. Some of the narrative comes across as forced and doesn’t add to the story, which is a good one. Each Chapter, as the one noted above, also starts with a quote. Some of them quite lengthy. I found myself skipping them as they diverted my attention to a place I didn’t want to go from a place I was happy to be. Stephen King offers good advice about killing darlings and there are many darlings worth sacrificing for the sake of story in this mystery tale.

Kurt Vonnegut, likewise, offers good advice regarding literary criticism:

“I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

I agree with Vonnegut 100%. Robert Doyle has written a three scoop treat of a novel in Ghosts in the Brothel. My belly could use less ice cream, these days, is all. The mystery has great insight into the political and policing scenes in Toronto along with the gangster lifestyle. Tara is no stereotypical female found in most crime fiction written by seasoned crime writers. She’s intelligent and independent yet maintains her human sensibilities and frailties in believable fashion. Ghosts in the Brothel is the second in the Tara Street Crime Series. If the third one doesn’t come out soon I’ll be backtracking Tara’s footprints to spy in on her first caper.

Just remember, Robert: you only need to hit 300 to get into the Hall of Fame. Best of luck with the sequel.

The Author Robert Doyle at the age of innocence

Ghosts in the Brothel is available at Amazon and from www.APFpress.ca

 

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British author, Matt Carrell is a man of many good ideas. I genuinely like and admire that aspect of his personality. Most everything starts with an idea. Four years ago Matt had a good idea to meet-up with a successful online entrepreneur who had created a blog catering to readers of Thailand fiction. The thinking was this could help him sell hundreds if not thousands of additional copies of his books in a short span of time. When Matt fell short of accomplishing that goal he then, and only then, contacted me. I’ve always admired a man with a good Plan B.

Author Matt Carrell

Matt Carell has an impressive back list for such a young guy. It includes, Thai Lottery; Thai Kiss; Vortex; the sequel Vortex the End GameBlood Brothers; A Friend in Need; Something Must Be Done and now Crazy Medicine. Most have Thai-centric themes of varying degrees. Matt came close to getting Vortex on the silver screen and learned much about the process of taking a writer’s dream (or nightmare) of turning words into audio and visual art. When that, unfortunately, didn’t materialize (Vortex is reviewed here: Enjoy the Ride), it was back to Plan B. Enter the collaborative process of Crazy Medicine – A Short Film.

It has been four years since Matt and I met at an upscale dive beer bar on Sukhumvit Soi 4 to discuss the finer points of literature and plagiarism. The moment he walked in the joint I could see he was a man of distinction, good lookin’ and so refined.

So let me get right to the point: Matt and I are friends and have been since the fall of 2013, the year this blog was created. With full disclosure out of the way it is my pleasure to review Crazy Medicine, the paperback by Matt Carrell.

Crazy Medicine has been creating a natural buzz in Bangkok artistic circles since the completion of the short film. It is directed by veteran Hollywood cameraman and recent award winning feature film director, Richie Moore. Crazy Medicine was screened just this month in Bangkok on two occasions. The cast / crew responsibilities and scheduling fell on producer James Newman. Newman assembled a great ensemble.

I have not yet seen a screening of the short 22 minutes film but it is impossible to read Crazy Medicine without the vivid images of the following actors popping into my brain: Chris Wegoda (Daeng the handsomely tough drug dealer), John Marengo (savvy veteran journalist), Jon Sampson (showing his versatility once again in his role as sex tourist), Kate Tiger (stunning vixen), Libby Jennings (Emily the millennial crusader), Maythavee Weiss (the pole dancing temptress), and Michael New (as the Man in Brown or Thai cop for the uninitiated). These images are conjured up due to the action packed trailer that was also released this month, which you can see below. The terrific editing and sound over choices were made by Jesse Maddox. John Fengler makes a cameo appearance as himself. The man gets about.

Back to the book. Matt Carrell takes some tried and true paths, some might say well worn, and adds some cognitive swerves into a cohesive and believable story. Matt talks the talk well because he has walked the walk more than a few times around Bangkok’s uneven concrete jungle. The story revolves around the disillusioned millennial in England, Emily dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and a recently elected leader of the free world. Matt impressively sums up the important economic and social issues that well-read people are aware of today, while contrasting modern times with the good old days of blessings past. When Emily gets to Thailand, with her inquisitive nature, there are new experiences waiting for her in the shadows of Thai society that she hadn’t expected. You’ll learn, among other things, that the contents in a Pringles can are not good for your health, mental or physical.

There is plenty of action in a short span of time. The edible delicacies mentioned sparingly are more in line with an entomologist’s taste than a gastronomist’s. That’s good news for readers of pulp fiction. The author humbly admits that a Booker Prize is probably not in his future. Carrell is a skillful writer and definitely not a plodding plotter. He captures western guilt among many other emotions found in the east and west.

I like the thoughts of Elmore Leonard on writing so my chief complaint with Crazy Medicine – A Short Story, is that it is narrative heavy at times. The good news is that Carrell left out the parts that readers skip. Crazy Medicine is a short and bittersweet tale with as many twists and turns as a ride down Lombard Street in San Francisco.

The story has Thai features found in other Bangkok fiction that are “same same but different”. The different and creative elements of Crazy Medicine carried the day. In addition to the quick paced story you get a great and appropriate prologue plus a 10 page background and movie update. The story ends with 1-2 fastball and curve ball pitches.

Crazy Medicine not only left me wanting to see the short film, I found myself thinking a new project should be on the table. A Plan B if you will, in the event a feature film doesn’t result as the short makes the rounds of various world-wide film festivals: The Making of Crazy Medicine – The Movie. I could easily watch an additional 60 minutes of documentary film making involving the actors and crew mentioned above.  As Charles Bukowski said, “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” There’s no danger of that happening to Matt Carrell or the talented people involved in the production of Crazy Medicine. Best wishes and continued success on the film festival circuit to all concerned.

Buy Crazy Medicine the short story here

 

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Lawrence Osborne has occupied rarefied air in writing spheres since he made a name for himself in New York City over twenty-five years ago. Versatility became a strong suit. His star is shining brighter and rising higher of late since he abandoned the young man’s dying game of journalism for the equally risky life of a full-time nomadic novelist. After making it there he acquired or maintained an animal confidence to make it anywhere. He has lived or visited for stretches in Mexico, Istanbul, Macao, Italy, Greece, Cambodia, and Bangkok where he currently resides in a spacious condominium.  The odds favor that there is no wind chime hanging above the balcony. His grown son lives in Japan.

The British born Osborne ticked all the right boxes to gain proper employment in London or New York with his Cambridge education and short stint at Harvard but opted instead for a pair of traveling shoes. As expats who choose to live in Bangkok go, Osborne brings more social capital to the scene than your typical foreigner living in Thailand. This is to be admired, ignored, envied or derided depending on your own psychological make-up, accomplishments, time management skills, and views on expat society and social standing.

The class conscious and taste conscious (good and bad) Brit was a veteran feature writer for The New York Times Magazine. He’s been published in Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, The New Yorker, and Men’s Vogue where he penned a monthly column on wine. His literary works are represented by Elyse Cheney and her agency. Ms Cheney made a credible list of the 50 Most Powerful Female Executives in New York City for 2015. Osborne’s non-fiction books include, The Poisoned Embrace, The Wet and the Dry, The Accidental Connoisseur, and Bangkok Days. Recent honors include being selected by the Raymond Chandler estate to write a Philip Marlowe crime novel. The work has been submitted but no publishing date has been announced. His critically acclaimed novel, The Forgiven is now a screenplay to be directed by John Michael McDonagh. In short, life is hard but not right now for Lawrence Osborne.

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Beautiful Animals is the third Osborne novel that I have read – Ballad for a Small Player and Hunters in the Dark the latter set in Cambodia, are the other two. I found similar themes in each, along with decadently descriptive prose. The two main characters are young, fit and beautiful females. One slightly younger and more beautiful than the other. “Beautiful as panthers” according to Sam, short for Samantha, an American on summer holiday with her parents, the Haldane’s from New York. The primary setting is the Greek Island of Hydra and the surrounding areas. There Sam meets and falls under the spell of narcissistic Naomi, the dream seeking daughter of a rich British art collector, a hesitant raconteur named Jimmie Codrington. The inevitable island gossip includes rumors that Jimmie once palled around with Aristotle Onassis. Old Bohemians traced back to Leonard Cohen’s day still survive. Jimmie has owned an expensive Hydra home on a hill since the 1980s, filled with precious art. The acrimonious household includes Naomi’s not quite wicked step-mother of Greek origin, Phaine. Funny, her nickname, is snobbish and not particularly humorous when she’s not making a toast or sober. Funny doesn’t make the grade compared to the birth mother. They never do.

The novel is billed as a psychological study. It is. It could also be called a psychological simmer; it never gets up to a full boil, but that’s probably in the recipe Osborne planned to serve. The story is often dark, in places, but as the languid narrative voice states and this reader agrees, “The dark, however, was not a bad place to be.”  Had the author heard a different calling he would have made a fine psychologist. A cruel eye makes for a better diagnostician, no doubt, than a confined therapist. People rarely change in Osborne’s novels and when they do it’s usually not for the better.

There is a resentful maid, of course, a Greek named Carissa who likes to have a laugh at the tourists’ expense. Loyal or not is anyone’s guess in the early stages. A rowboat oar wielding, pot selling local female makes recurring and memorable entrances and exits. Brief shadows of supernatural beings or guilt are also served up, ambiguously. Thankfully, no short-cuts were taken in the spiritual realm.

Pacing is Osborne’s strength yet there are possibly overly descriptive passages that include food and drink of the delicious and expensive variety. There are more feasts than assassins in this tale. Other readers may find the going slow. The story turns early on when Naomi and Sam discover a bearded Arab wearing only track suit bottoms and vagabond thongs. A scheme is devised to help the Muslim migrant for humanitarian reasons. Or not; it’s never clear. The secular Osborne must have had fun pairing godly and ungodly people together. Neither is particularly moral, even when overpaying for baked goods. That’s the desired message to consider.

Bad things happen to not so good people without a whole lot of action or dialogue going on at times.

The most likable character is a no longer dashing but still refined 70 year old sleuth, Mr. Rockhold. I enjoyed Rockhold for many reasons including his prudent choice of red wine. In Osborne’s fictional world the investigator wears a Panama hat (not a Fedora) and politely holds it to one side as he introduces himself to a panicking Naomi. The migrant, Faoud, turns out to be refined and educated as well and has a musical background. He later trades in his sandals for a pair of $600.00 shoes. A mistake, and the chase is on.

If there is a weakness to the storytelling in Beautiful Animals it is the believability of the plot points, big and small. Had the manipulative animal been American and the persuadable animal been from England I doubt even the author would have bought into the predicaments that ensue due to poor decision making made by intelligent and affluent people with much to lose. They both, after all, like the reluctant police officers pursuing a dangerous criminal in the tiny Italian settlement of Pian di Sco, cared about their lives, or should have. The fact that the nationalities are reversed does not make the scenarios any more credible. On the plus side before the plot points are made, misdirections and uncertainty are the norm.

There may be some worlds where a father can keep an audible secret concealed from his daughter for thirty years but none that I have been around. Osborne makes up for these lapses with his keen sense of observation and a breakdown of manipulation, apathy, meaninglessness, morality, religion, and greed. These elements coupled with the pacing make this a quick and sinister read.

Beautiful Animals should enjoy brisk sales on the East coast of the USA and with those who have summer homes in desirable locales. Hollywood will also likely take notice. I enjoyed and recommend Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. But, I am looking forward to his take on Philip Marlowe. That should go down a treat. Lawrence Osborne knows that the best way to get a handful of simmering eggs to hard boiled is to turn up the heat.

Beautiful Animals is available at all the usual outlets. Published by Hogarth Press.

  • ISBN-10: 0553447378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553447378

To learn more Lawrence Osborne and his books go to: lawrenceosborne.net/

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As much as I like Declan Power in The Chiang Mai Chronicle by T Hunt Locke, Colin McDonald AKA Big Mac is my new favorite protagonist by this up and coming historical crime fiction thriller writer. Locke has proven himself to be an astute observer of humans and human behavior, particularly the kind of behavior that takes place in the Bangkok night.

The author gets all the ingredients right for me in Repent: characters, settings, lust, laughs and just the right amount of love potion thrown in at the end. There are similarities between Declan and Big Mac; they both remind me of Mike Hammer with their gruff personalities and good fortune to be around a bevy of beauties. The writing style remains in the vein of Mickey Spillane. However, Locke has definitely kicked it up a notch with Colin, a legally troubled former East Coast prosecuting attorney who knows how the games are played and enjoys playing them all. The 6’4″ Big Mac is now a Bangkok troubleshooter who has no problem following a devil into the darkest corners of the City of Angels.

Locke impresses me because he improves as a writer the old fashioned way – hard work. He keeps at his craft, he keeps producing and he keeps getting better while not being afraid to mix up his formula. There are pages where he pushes the envelop with belief suspension but you are having so much fun at the time you hardly notice. I liked the Catholic Church angle thrown into the mystery along with the local history involved and the cast of colorful characters including an expat known as John the Baptist, a former nightlife player turned bible thumper.

Locke doesn’t phone it in – he does his research but never at the expense of entertainment or coming across in a “look what I know” way which would detour you out of the story. It all flows together evenly. What you learn about Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek adventurer who ended up being an influential member of 17th Century Siamese society is a case in point. Repent is a solid historical mystery and a fine effort by Locke. I’m looking forward to a return of Colin McDonald in future tales, along with his love interest Ai and the requisite Royal Thai Police sidekick, although I must admit I’m going to miss his old office on Soi Cowboy for the glass and chrome palace he’s been upgraded to.

This is not a life altering read. Repent is a fun romp into the back streets, sheets, and red light districts of Bangkok as Big Mac tries to solve the proverbial maniacal mass murderer with a biblical bent. Give it a go at the beach or at an afternoon beer bar between your 12 ounce curl routine.

Click the Picture of T Hunt Locke and his two children to go his Amazon Author page

Photograph by Jiraporn Jaisan

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JVPic

Joel Villines on the River of Kings in Bangkok, Thailand

Joel Villines is a traveler, a father, a writer, an author, and the owner of a boxing gym in L.A. to rattle off just a few nouns. The adjectives one can attach to him are more interesting. It is said on his Amazon author page that Joel was born at home on a pile of newspapers on Chicago’s South side, where he led a truly remarkable life that involved freezing temperatures, reading stacks of books, and accompanying his grandfather to neighborhood bars to play Donkey Kong. He survived Catholic Schooling, and vowed that if he lived long enough, he would move to a warmer climate. Forty-plus years later, he is finally living the dream along with having the odd nightmare about ghost writing a horror screenplay. J.D. Villines now resides in Los Angeles, where he runs Echo Park Boxing and Muay Thai Gym, located on Sunset Boulevard no less. He also writes for the Hollywood crowd. Before that he spent a lot of time in a stagnant, malaria filled village on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. If he hasn’t been interviewed before, someone screwed up.

KC: Your first novel is a zombie thriller called Dead Bangkok. What’s the back story on how that evolved? 

JD: I was living with my girlfriend (Nok from Dead Bangkok) in her village and a few incidents occurred that led to that book. For one, we had just come back from a long trip to Koh Chang, and were spending our days hiking into Cambodia through a little border checkpoint near her village. Not sure exactly how I caught this particular fever but it was a doozy. There was a major monsoon at the time and her family only had a scooter—so they claimed there was no way to get me to a hospital with the dirt roads now being washed out and all. A village “doctor” came by to check on me. He gave me Tylenol and not much else.  I had a 106 degree fever for about 6 days straight, and was pretty certain I was dying. I wrote out my “will” which ended up being the first few lines of the novel. “Ours is a long slow suicide. Life metered out in milligrams and bullets. Parasites and hosts. An ecosystem of the absurd.”

When my fever finally broke, I was physically destroyed but had enough mental strength to demand a ride to a hospital. Somehow they found a cousin with a pickup truck and they took me to a government hospital in Sisaket. They gave me a bag full of drugs and I went back to my girls shack, slept on the floor under the mosquito net, and wrote the rest of that novel.

Joel’s sleeping quarters and near death experience scene in a Thai village near the Cambodian border

Nok-who was my muse at the time and a character in the book, is still my friend but we are no longer a couple. Her whole family was into some “dark Buddhism” or what we, in the west would call “black magic”. Black magic is generally defined as being selfish in origin. Casting spells for love, money, power, or sex. Maybe a few curses on your business rival as well. I learned about Thailands huge pantheon of ghosts from her. Actually, the amount I learned about Thailand’s underbelly from her was staggering. She was, and is, a total character of a person. I really miss those days in our shack—fever and all.

Joel Villines [Right] shown with Muay Thai Champion Anuwat Kaewsamrit

KC: What have you learned so far during your time on the planet? The important stuff and the unimportant stuff – break it down for me.

JD:  A magician’s only real power is causing synchronicities to happen. Once you can achieve that—all of the strange, beautiful things in life will jump out at you. Everything else is trivial and not worth mentioning. As of now, I am only adept in my one-man-esoteric order. I still can’t afford grimoires bound in human skin but I am saving up.

KC: Talk about aggression: ​in music, in writing and in the ring. When is aggression most useful to you? When is it most harmful?

Martial Arts instructor Joel Villines with pads at Echo Park Boxing Gym

JV: You don’t need aggression. You only need lack of fear, and an inner-calm. The fearless can move through the world effortlessly. The fearless can defeat any opponent. This is the way of the sage.

KC: What are the cultural differences between rural Thailand and urban USA. Put another way, what are the differences between La La Land and the Land of Smiles? Contrast your life in rural Thailand with your life now as the owner and instructor of a Muay Thai gym in historic Echo Park, California. 

JV: In rural Thailand (Kantaralak, Sisaket), I lived in a shack, swatted mosquitos, and pondered the stars with a girl I loved. In Los Angeles, I live in an apartment one block from where the Black Dahlia was murdered, observe the cult members that permeate the area, and watch police helicopters with a girl that I adore. I came back to the States, ostensibly, to make money so that I could return to live in Thailand one day. Now, I am not so sure that is my goal anymore. There is something to be said for dating an intelligent, successful woman here in the USA. My needs have changed….for now anyway.

The Muay Thai gym I opened is a community gathering place in Echo Park. Very happy to see what it has grown into. The twenty years I spent going back and forth to Muay Thai gyms allowed me to be where I’m at. An entity beyond me. Something that helps spread the Thai cultural meme to people who had no previous exposure to it.

KC: Had any good nightmares lately? Share. 

JV: Well, I had been ghost writing a bit when I came back to the States. My nightmare seemed to evolve out of that experience.  In the nightmare, I was hired to take over writing duties on a horror screenplay. The previous screenwriter had died while writing it. I will kind of leave it there because I am working it into a story now–but it scared the shit out of me.

KC: What superstitions do you have? Inside or outside the ring.

JV: I seem to constantly find nails on the street, in parking lots, or near cars. I have picked them up for years. I can’t even remember how many. Possibly several hundred by now. I get a flash that someone will run over them and then blow their tire out on the highway. So, I pick them up to avert death and disaster. I am aware that the agents of fortune are using me as a tool for good or ill. I could be saving the next Pulitzer winner, or maybe even helping a bank robber get away from a crime. Who knows? I do it anyway.

Joel Villines at Monk blessing ceremony for Echo Park Gym

KC: Lets do some free association. I’ll throw out some words and you write whatever first comes into your mind:

 

Conformity: I do it everyday, and then spend the day undoing it.

Dregs: Some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

Drag Queens: My GF lives two blocks from a cross-dressing evil-clown bar. Sometimes they carry axes. The world needs more of that.

Ghosts: I’ve created my own poltergeist. He goes with me everywhere. So do a few ‘hitchhikers’ I’ve picked up in the sundry parts of Thailand.

Breast implants: They look better on ladyboys than real women.

Henry Rollins: He is revered in Redondo Beach where I lived for 15 years—so it’s almost sacrilegious to speak against the pontiff of punk. I went to one of his spoken word gigs in Chicago when I was a kid and he ranted about how stupid boxing was ( I was a boxer and was kind of like, huh?). Then he proceeded to extol the virtues of lifting weights. Kind of the alpha-bro of the art world. Henry and Danzig should have a morning workout show. I liked Ron Reyes of  Black Flag more.

Jerry Brown: His aura smiles and never frowns….his suede denim secret police will come for your uncool niece.

Raging Bull (The movie): Quite possibly, the most unrealistic boxing choreography in movie history. Great movie nonetheless.

Las Vegas: Where do you start? It’s pre-apocalyptic that’s just screaming to be post. All you can eat sushi, machine-guns, legal brothels, cheap apartments, and chances are you’ll run into someone you know there. The downtown area is trying hard to attract hipsters. I think there’s like two or three there now. Considering getting a weekend place there with my GF because she works on TV shows.

Money: If I can eat what I want, and travel when I want—then I have enough.

Steroids: That’s a Tim Sharkey Question.

Tanning salons: They are dying out…I hope.

Tattoos: I’m heavily inked. I like most of what I have. The only ones I don’t like are the ones I did on a budget. I’ve yet to get any Sak Yant tattoos, but it’s on my list. If I have any room left.

Superman: Least favorite. Totally unlikable character. He can literally do everything. Batman is just a dude who knows martial arts. Much more relatable.

Woody Allen: Loved Midnight in Paris. Wish he would do a horror movie.

KC: Which writers were/are your mentors? If you don’t like that word, tell me which writers you respect?

JV: Philip K Dick, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson were huge influences on my world view growing up. As a kid in Chicago, we didn’t have television—but our apartment was full of books. My mom is a beatnik writer so her book selection was top notch. Lately I’ve been reading Maldoror,  by Comte de Lautreamont, and a lot of esoteric gnostic stuff as research for my next book.

KC: What is the difference between writing for television and writing fiction for readers? 

JV: A lot of tv writing is just trying to keep people’s attention. Unless it’s Twin Peaks, not many people will stick around for the slow burn development of characters. If you write comedy–it’s a lot of one-liners and setups for jokes. For police type shows, it’s being edgy without being corny or cliched.

KC: What do you see in your crystal ball? 

JV: Souls will reincarnate inside artificial humans, clones, or even computers. We will shed this meat vessel and hopefully move beyond our biological programming. It’s all part of a transhumanist agenda. You’re an atheist, you say? Fear not. They’ll find a use for your soul too. There will always be room in the robot brothels on Soi 6.

KC: Damn. 

My book review of Dead Bangkok can be found here. 

You can buy Dead Bangkok on Amazon here for only $2.99.

To visit the Echo Park Boxing Gym web site click the logo:

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I’m getting ready for the celebration
I’m bringing my imagination
Taking charge of my elevation
No fear, no trepidation
Register my affirmation
No doubt, no hesitation
People get ready for the embarkation.

– Jackson Browne

MOM (MAGIC CIRCLES BOOK 1) by Collin Piprell.

A Book Review

All aboard for an embarkation to MOM, a mad comic Science Fiction mystery/thriller taking place in the year 2057 AD, written by Collin Piprell. Earth is a planet where few real biological persons are truly alive, never mind awake, and those that are must be confined to gigantic malls located on two hemispheres – Eastern Seaboard SE Asia Mall (ESSEA) and United Securistats of America (ESUSA) Mall. (Africa has disappeared; no one knows exactly why). Inhabitants are called mallsters. They live in a state of quarantine from a nanobot superorganism, a plaguebot that has devoured much of the world. More bad news: the malls are crumbling and people get dissed or disassembled if they venture outside. It’s Piprell’s complex and vivid imagination coupled with a failed doomsday scenario known as the “grey goo”, where out of control, voracious self replicating nanobots attempt to consume all biomass on earth while building more of themselves. Enter MOM.

MOM is an acronym for Mall Operations Manager. The mall refugees are as dependent on her as, well, children are to their mom – everything they see is because of a loving MOM, or is she? Trust is also in limited supply in Piprell’s world. MOM is Artificial Intelligence perfected or she should have been had there not been some devious bugs left behind for the benefit of the few remaining humans. (Think of Hal singing, as Dave gets revenge in 2001 – A Space Odyssey). MOM has taken over the job from the previous and last human MOM, Brian the Evil Canadian. The power isn’t relinquished without a techo-fight and that’s just one of many places the fun begins in this bleak and at other times artificially induced happy futuristic tale. If it sounds like too much to handle, and it can be for some, there is the handy “op out” feature, where one can volunteer for psychonuerotherapeutic reconstruction or PR, for short. In the Worlds there is a trade off for happiness but most mallsters are willing to make that trade. In that regard, perhaps there hasn’t been much change to the planet.

Cisco Smith is our 22 year old protagonist among a sea of important and colorful human and scientifically created characters at any given time. Cisco is as real as his generation can be; the Tiger Woods of 4D gaming as a teenager, he’s now a test pilot with an identity crisis for Worlds UnLtd, one of only two remaining test pilots on what remains of pitiful planet earth. His sexual orientation is egalitarian omnitech hetero (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and his dietary preferences lean heavily toward peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Dee Zu is Cisco’s best friend and main lover; she is the other surviving test pilot of ESSEA. Their job is to test the virtual worlds for safety and compatibility for others to enter. The Worlds, for logistic and scientific reasons, extend only a short distance in arc like fashion in what becomes one of many possibilities of circular virtual realities. To quote a well known American writer, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” Ebees are included or electronic beings and they prove to be good company more often than not.

Leary, a 113 year old baby boomer whom readers of Piprell’s fiction will recall from his past work, is a mentor to Cisco and the last surviving human in the Eastern Seaboard. Thankfully for this reader, this is science fiction more in the mold of Kurt Vonnegut than Paolo Bacigalupi of The Windup Girl fame. Satire, witty philosophy, psychology, and anthropology rule, along with the all powerful but flawed MOM. Hi ho.

An example of Piprell’s narrative voice, which has a hint of Woody Allen neurosis:

It’s funny when you think about it. Basically, human beings were merely devices for turning food into fertilizer. Call it man’s nature. But now we don’t have any plants left to feed, so what use are we?

There is a Bangkok connection woven into MOM allowing Thailand expatriates and visitors to the kingdom to get some value added reading in with references to familiar landmarks during trips to Old Handland, located on Soi Awol. Ebees are plentiful in Old Handland and take on the roll of “you buy me cola?” bar girls as just one example of a tribute to a real Bangkok long gone. This is one of the many virtual reality worlds available to mallsters when it is not Monday, which tend to get some people down. The trouble is, it frequently is Monday and the frequency is increasing thanks to MOM who is in and out of control.

It’s “Cisco the Kid” and medibots to the rescue but that’s all I can say in this review. You have to admire the imaginative Piprell for creating a futuristic world by writing a lengthy novel with no children, no books, no plants, no real animals (there are robotic ones) and no writers. MOM is a big bang of a novel with many big ideas layered in along with enough optimism to make you believe a second renaissance period for mankind is possible. Old Asia hands, Sci Fi fans, and readers of quality fiction who enjoy complex and entertaining yarns should enjoy MOM. There’s a handy glossary in the back that you may want to commit to memory before you dive in.

The ending lends itself well for a series. It’s Collin Piprell’s imagination running away and I can’t wait to read where it and his worlds run to next. One wont have to wait long as Genesis 2.0 is due for an October 2017 release.

MOM

By Collin Piprell

Published by Common Deer Press, 2017

Available at Amazon.com, US$4.99 (Bt171), $14.99 paperback

Click here to go to Collin Piprell’s blog: Collin Piprell, In Reality

Click here to go to Paul Dorsey’s excellent and more expansive review of MOM at The Nation

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