The upcoming episode of the Crime Cafe podcast will feature an interview with another author you should know. Andrew Nette is not only a crime fiction author, but is a “pulp scholar”, which means he knows a lot more than I ever will about the subject.
In anticipation of his appearance, Andrew is giving away a copy of his noir novel, Gunshine State. Just look to the left and feast your eyes on the cover.
To enter the book giveaway, just email Andrew Nette at andrewnette[at]gmail[dot]com, with “Crime Cafe giveaway” as the subject, and the winner will be chosen at random. You have until Feb. 19, 2019, to enter.
And on that note, let’s hear from the author himself!
I have always been fascinated with the idea of writing noir fiction about Southeast Asia.
This partly comes from the fact that I lived and worked in the region for nearly eight years and visit often.
My debut novel, Ghost Money, is set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, when I was working in the country as a journalist, the point at which the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency started to fragment and the country was torn by political instability. It is the story of a disillusioned Vietnamese Australian ex-cop called Max Quinlan, who is hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery, missing in the chaos. It soon becomes clear Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking.
The main character of my second novel, Gunshine State, Gary Chance, is a former Australian Army driver, ex-bouncer and thief, whose latest job sees him in Queensland working for an aging Surfers Paradise standover man. Curry runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao. Gunshine State is informed by my love of heist thrillers, but in addition to Queensland and Melbourne, a lot of the novel takes place in Bangkok. I am currently in the process of writing a sequel, titled, Orphan Road.
When Ghost Money first appeared in 2012, as far as I know it was one of a relatively small number of crime fiction books with a distinctly noir sensibility set in Southeast Asia. One exception was Bangkok based author, Christopher Moore who has been writing books featuring his Bangkok-based American PI, Vincent Calvino since the early nineties. Tom Vater’s excellent series featuring the German private detective Maier, and Vietnam based Elka Ray’s domestic noir, Saigon Dark, are two more recent examples that come to mind. There must be are others.
But there are not nearly as many as I would’ve thought. I keep thinking people will discover Southeast Asia as a fascinating place to set noir and hardboiled crime novels, but there’s hardly been a tidal wave of interest.
The list gets even shorter when one tries to think of noir crime fiction in the area, indeed, any kind of crime fiction written by locals. I have heard that there are some local crime writers in Thailand, although I have not met them. Phnom Penh Noir, an excellent short story collection edited by Moore, published in 2012, also featured some great stories by local Khmer authors. But these seem to be exceptions to the rule.
I don’t have any definitive answers why this is the case.
One reason is that life is already pretty hardboiled or noir, for want of better way of putting it, for a lot of people in the region. When I first travelled to Cambodia in 1992, it was a poor and traumatised country. The Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths by starvation and torture of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians during their brief rule in the seventies, were still fighting from heavily fortified jungle bases. The government was an unstable coalition of two parties who’d been at each other’s throats for the better part of a decade and whose main interests were settling historical scores and making money. It remained that way for much of the nineties, while I was working on and off as a journalist.
A lot had changed when I returned for the year in 2008, to write the first draft of what would be Ghost Money. The Khmer Rouge insurgency was over, its main leaders on trial for war crimes. The streets of Phnom Penh were full of luxury cars. Tourists could get a shiatsu massage in their ozone neutral hotel, then head out for tapas and cocktails. On another level, a lot hadn’t. The same people still ran things and the methods they used hadn’t altered. Corruption, land grabbing and even murder are all carried out with shocking impunity by local elites, and, of anything the authoritarian nature of the ruling government has got even worse sine then.
Gunshine State was written during a period of considerable political turmoil in Thailand, which is now ruled by the military. The part of the book set in Thailand sees Chance get ensnared in a plot by a particularly venal chao pho, the term for a ‘godfather’, powerful organised crime figures who usually conduct their activities in league with military, business and political figures. Burma and Laos are also one party states with high levels of corruption and impunity in the face of the law.
Given all this, it is hardly surprising that there is not a lot of interest on the part of the locals in reading crime fiction, let alone writing it. Not when they can just pick up a newspaper and read about it.
This situation profoundly influenced how I researched and wrote my book, Ghost Money and Gunshine State. What does it mean for the story and characters when your crime fiction is set in a country where corruption and political repression are regular features of everyday life? How do you depict their countries and their struggles in a way that delivers a thrilling crime read, without being sensational and exploitative? To some degree these touch on larger questions that face anyone writing crime, but they take on a particularly sharpness for me writing about parts of Asia.
I don’t have the answers but I do want to keep exploring the topic in my fiction.
Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, reviewer and pulp scholar. In addition to two novels, Ghost Money and Gunshine State, he has authored a monograph on the 1975 science fiction classic, Rollerball, released by Auteur Publishing. He is co-editor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, published by PM Press, and Sticking It To the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980, to be published by PM in late 2019. You can find him via his website www.pulpcurry.com or on Twitter at @Pulpcurry.