Angkor Tears

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.18.23 AM.pngSteven W. Palmer’s latest Cambodia thriller is out. The subject is child trafficking, and the story is fittingly grim. It has a likeable hero (a Khmer cop) and an evil villain who – well, let’s see if anyone puts a hand up. Steven Palmer himself is a well-known figure around Phnom Penh, a leading light of the growing Cambodia noir movement. Kevin Cummings has an interview with him which is worth reading, and a very useful word-snapshot:

Steven W. Palmer is a Scottish expat currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He has been living in Asia since 2012 and currently works as Managing Editor for three magazines published in Cambodia. His previous working life has seen him work in diverse roles from drugs counselor to social worker to DJ and promoter. He has self-published two previous novels; ‘Angkor Away’, the first in the Angkor series which introduced Chamreun to the world, and ‘Electric Irn Bru Acid Test’; a coming of age story set in 1980s Scotland and part of the planned ‘Glas Vegas’ trilogy. Palmer is part of the thriving South East Asian Noir movement, which spans literature, poetry, art, photography and music.

The book is available now on Kindle and on smashwords. I understand there’ll be a print version in Monument in a few weeks. There’s also a nice trailer on You Tube with atmospheric images and a gutsy soundtrack from Krom, Phnom Penh’s own noir blues band.

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Behind the Night Bazaar

BtNBazaarBehind the Night Bazaar stars “Thirty-something Australian Jayne Keeney [who] works as a PI in Bangkok. Shaken by a serious incident, she heads north to visit her close friend Didier in Chiang Mai…”

There she runs foul of the villainous policeman, Lieutenant Colonel Ratratarn, who’s idea of policing would put the Borgias to shame. There’s a corpse of course – it belongs to a close friend of Jane’s, who works on AIDS prevention with Chiang Mai’s gay community (the gay bars behind the night Chiang Mai night bazaar figure prominently in the story). We soon discover that the Lt. Colonel is the murderer. Jane’s job is to find out why.

“With some help from Arthur Conan Doyle, she digs deep – past the tacky glamour of the city’s clubs and bars, arrogant expats, corrupt officials, and a steamy affair – to find out just what happened behind the Night Bazaar.”

It’s a good read – strong characterisation (love Jane), well-realised local setting, and some real humour (far to often novels that claim to be funny, aren’t): Very funny passage about third way through, academic sex researcher with Jayne as interpreter and Thai bar-girl:

“So, Nalissa, how did you come to be forced into sex work?”

Jayne hesitated. “Do you want me to translate that literally?”

“Why not?”

(Jayne explains that in Thai you’d use euphemisms – “bar work” or similar; also, the question assumes that the girl was forced into bar work).

“Well, yes.” Moira frowned. “For the sake of my research, the meaning must be very clear and specific.”

Jayne shrugs and asks the question.

“I understand a little English,” Nalissa says in Thai. “You’re right, I wasn’t forced to do this work. It was my choice. But the farang doesn’t want to hear that. So we make up stories to please her. Tell her my father was an opium addict or something.”

Jayne turned to Moira. “Nalissa says her father was an opium addict.”

Moira, brows knitted, wrote it down in her notebook. “Go on.”

“What do I say next?” Jayne asked in Thai.

“That was good,” Nalissa said. “Make it up – tell her I was sold to pay for my father’s addiction.”

“The family was very poor,” Jayne said in English. “Nalissa was the eldest child and the most beautiful of the daughters.”

“Dee mark!” Nalissa said. “I like that. You know, I came here on my own to find work. I studied up to middle school, but there was no senior school in our area. When I got to Chiang Mai I could earn one hundred baht for working twelve hours a day in garment factory-and those places are so hot-or I could make the same just sitting here in an air-con bar drinking with a customer for ten minutes…”

Angela Savage (her blog here) is a Melbourne-based writer with a series of crime novels set in late 1990s Thailand. Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript,and she is a winner of the Scarlett Stiletto Award and has twice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards.

I really enjoyed this. No idea whether it’s available at Monument Books, but it should be (you reading this, William?) Goodreads reviews here  – four reviews, all positive; Kindle page here.