I grew up with detective heroes, starting with Nancy Drew and moving in my teen years to Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. On TV I adored the glamour and wicked sins of Hart to Hart, which young girl didn’t? As an adult I have soaked up the cool noir of the The Killing and The Bridge and planned holidays in my head to the Scandinavian heartland of Wallander. The distinctive characters captured a flavour of their country of origin, in spite of a certain cliché. Moving to south-east Asia, I wondered if such iconic figures existed in Thai society. Is there a Thai Holmes; a Poirot of Phuket? What would these Thai detectives tell you about Thai culture?
The majority of Thais are Buddhist, and apart from the odd riot, the society is a singularly harmonious one. The people are laid back and tolerant, some might say indifferent. Things happen, but at their own pace, and conflict is avoided. The wall-to-wall traffic of Bangkok is made slightly more bearable by the complete absence of honking horns, and road rage is virtually non-existent. It feels like a very safe place to have a young family. This is all very pleasant of course, but seems unlikely to breed murderous intent and a good mystery novel. Do Thai people have the appetite for homicide?
In theory, dig below the surface and there is prime meat for murder. The gap between rich and poor is huge, and extreme wealth alongside extreme poverty might easily inspire murderous thoughts in the malicious few. In fact there are regular stories in the international press about western backpackers being murdered in Thailand. These crimes are likely to revolve around money, and often drugs. Thailand is known for its prostitution and transvestite society, along with a reputation for ‘mail order brides’. The government and civil service is not without corruption: another prime breeding ground for murder.
So certainly there is enough material. Are there any Thai detectives man – or woman – enough to take it on? Or is this a literary genre unfamiliar to Thai audiences? Having discussed this with some Thai colleagues, the furrowed brows suggest that nobody springs immediately to mind. I look forward to finding out more about the Thai underworld when I start my first book by Timothy Hallinan whose lead character, Poke Rafferty is a Bangkok-based detective. I hope to learn more about this city through its sins, even if it must be through the eyes of a foreigner.
My hunt for a native Thai detective however, continues…..