Double Bang A Bangkok!
Thailand has appeared as an exotic background in loads of literature, from fascinating historical tales to dreadful romantic tragedies (A bargirl broke my heart, etc.).
Also plenty of crime/spy/detective novels have appeared over the years, with its farang heroes drinking Mekong whiskey (or worse).
The number one classic which started it all is probably Jack Reynold’s ‘A Woman Of Bangkok’, an excellent depiction of a young expat who falls for a Thai ‘dancing girl’ with predictable disastrous results.
It took Jack lots of rejections before ‘A Sort of Beauty’ (the original title) finally appeared in print in 1956...
Classic cover art from days gone by!
With this in mind I browsed through countless piles of paperbacks in old bookshops and dusty markets in the hope of finding something similar.
Most of the time I ended up badly disappointed, but occasionally I had a stroke of luck, such as with the books of Gerald Sparrows, an Englishman who lived and worked in Thailand for a long time both before, during and after WW2.
In fact I was so pleased with his ‘Opium Venture’ (1957) that I wrote and illustrated an article about it for ‘Living In Thailand’ magazine in the early 90s.
Some insects have been enjoying this book too...
Shortly after its publication I managed to find Sparrow’s ‘The Star Sapphires’ (1958), another excellent yarn.
Others were just ‘quaint’ (to be polite), such as Mr. Harris’ ‘Bangkok After Dark’ (1968), a badly written overview of the city’s erotic nightlife…
Only the background information about the hotels used during the Vietnam War as well as the lurid description on the back cover gives it a tiny bit of value.
Apparently the author wrote similar exposés about other places, e.g. ‘Hongkong After Dark’, ‘Taipei After Dark’, which I couldn't be bothered to find…
The back covers were in some cases better than the actual stories...
More than a few spy thrillers were set in Thailand, not surprising with all the evil communists just lurking across the borders!
Despite that potential Mason's The ’Secret Mission To Bangkok’ (1961) is just a bore…
Trying to reread these old tales is tricky as the paper tears easily...
Edward S. Aarons’ ‘Assignment Bangkok’ (1972) has a rather African looking elephant and landscape on its cover, something we can’t hold the author responsible for, but even so, his Sam Durell is no 007…
Same for Ryan in ‘Opium Flower’ (1963) despite him staying the Oriental Hotel…
The Golden Triangle with lots of guns and drugs is used decently enough in Woolfolk’s ‘Thai Game’ (1989).
Stealing valuable statues - ‘The Solid Gold Buddha’ (1979) & ’The Smiling Buddha’ (1985) is of course also an excellent topic which keeps reappearing from time to time.
However the first one makes a dreadful mistake, its heroes take a Bangkok taxi with a working meter, certainly in those days that was impossible!
The second mistake - going overland from Thailand to Bangladesh via Burma by car - is relatively minor in comparison!
But in ‘The Next Best Thing’ (1986) John Ralston Saul uses a 20 statues hunt to great effect and his writing style lifts the story high above ordinary tales!
Still a very nice cover design!
He repeated this a few years later with ‘Paradise Eater’ (1988) in which a certain Henry Crappe plays an important role, any resemblance with a certain Bangkok Post nightlife chronicler from that period is just coincidence...
This author has written lots of other excellent books!
I also managed to buy a few hardbacks, the best probably being Norman Lewis’ ‘A Single Pilgrim’ (1953), in which its hero - an English manager of a timber and mining company - finds his destiny (& doom) somewhere along the Thai Lao border…
The one on the left looks awful, God knows how this book was mistreated over the years...
To my big surprise I scored some Dutch items as well, both with Dick Bruna covers! (*)
Joop van den Broek wrote a rather detective dull tale (1961) about how things go in Bangkok which certainly didn’t inspire Bruna as he used some kind of Indonesian style knife for its cover.
OSS 117 was a kind of French James Bond.
The 1964 Dutch translation of Jean Bruce’s ‘Double Bang A Bangkok’ (isn’t that a great title?!) looks much more attractive with its bamboo silhouetted cover design!
After 2000 lots of ‘set in Thailand’ fiction started appearing but most of them are utterly forgettable, especially the self published ones (**).
Since then I haven’t bought much in this particular genre…
Properly dressed for reading the 'Secret Mission To Bangkok'...
(*) Here you can find more of Bruna's cover art: https://www.retrobook.com/index.php
(**) Notable exceptions and worth reading are the books by Christopher G. Moore, Jake Needham, Collin Piprell and John Burdett, but please let me know if you think I have forgotten anyone else!
A friend of mine wrote this one: https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Years-Rain-novel-Thailand-ebook/dp/B0883YN675
In Dutch: https://www.thailandblog.nl/category/cultuur/boeken/stad-der-engelen-een-moordverhaal/
Blast From The Past:
Going through my battered copy of 'The Star Sapphires’ I found to my big surprise a xerox of the 'Living in Thailand' article I mentioned earlier, something I must have done in the 90s and had completely forgotten!
Although heavily edited by the main guy at that time I still consider it fun enough to share it here.
The typed original draft on paper was lost long time ago...