Canadian Christopher G. Moore is the creator of the award-winning Vincent Calvino Private Eye series (13 novels) and the author of the Land of Smiles Trilogy. In his former life, he studied at Oxford University and taught law at the University of British Columbia. In 1988, he came to Thailand. Twenty-five years on and 24 novels, one collection of short stories and three non-fiction titles, and three anthologies edited, he remains in Bangkok and far from having exhausted the rich Southeast Asian literary materials. His novels have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Turkish, Polish, Russian, Norwegian and Thai.
The German edition of Moore’s third Vincent Calvino novel, ZERO HOUR IN PHNOM PENH, won the German Critics Award (Deutsche KrimiPreis) for International Crime Fiction in 2004 and the Spanish edition of the same novel won the Premier Special Director’s Book Award SemanaNegra (Spain) in 2007. The second Calvino novel, ASIA HAND, won the Shamus Award for Best Original Paperback in 2011.
MISSING IN RANGOON – The latest (13th) in the Vincent Calvino P.I. series (Heaven Lake Press, Bangkok 2013)
As foreigners rush into Burma, now known as Myanmar, with briefcases stuffed with plans and cash for hotels, shopping malls and high rises, they discover the old ways continue behind the scenes. Vincent Calvino’s case is to find a young British-Thai man gone missing in Rangoon, while his best friend and protector Colonel Pratt of the Royal Thai Police has an order to cut off the supply of cold pills from Myanmar used for the methamphetamine trade in Thailand.
As one of the most noir novels in the Vincent Calvino series, MISSING IN RANGOON plays out beneath the moving shadows of the cross-border drug barons. Pratt and Calvino’s lives are entangled with the invisible forces inside the old regime and their allies who continue to play by their own set of rules.
Christopher G. Moore talks about his writing:
The Vincent Calvino crime novel series has become an international brand. Are you bringing anything new to Calvino’s world or are you moving in a new direction?
The 13th novel in the Vincent Calvino crime series is titled MISSING IN RANGOON. The action takes place in Rangoon (Yangon) and Bangkok. One of the great challenges of any series featuring a private eye is keeping it fresh. The first Calvino novel SPIRIT HOUSE was published in 1992. This makes the Vincent Calvino series one of the longest running international crime series.
Any long-running crime fiction series creates the challenge of keeping the series fresh. I’ve tried to be in the right place in Southeast Asia during a time of considerable political and social upheaval. ZERO HOUR IN PHNOM PENH was set against the backdrop of UNTAC, the UN Peacekeeping Force that was sent to Cambodia in the early 1990s. COMFORT ZONE was set in Saigon during the time when the American embargo was being lifted and investors were rushing in. And most recently I’ve returned to a society in great transition—Burma.
It also leads to other issues—does your private eye age? I remember asking Lee Child at Bouchercon a few years ago for his opinion on the ageing of the hero, and his advice was to keep the hero at the age where he can throw and take a punch without supporting himself with a cane or walker. I think that is pretty good advice.
How did you go about doing research for MISSING IN RANGOON?
Last year when Burma (also known as Myanmar) turned a political corner that no one thought would happen without a revolution, I knew the time was right to research a novel as people were trying to make sense of what direction the country would take. I have been going in and out of Burma many times for nearly twenty years and had a baseline of experience to see first hand what changes met on the ground.
MISSING IN RANGOON emerged from my research last January. One of my non-Calvino novels WAITING FOR THE LADY (2004) was also set in Burma. I found a regime in the midst of seeking to open up as a new, more hopeful Burma. The political and social transition is not without costs and takes a fairly long period of time. I wanted to be there at the start and write about the baseline.
The novel is in the tradition of a noir thriller. Calvino and Colonel Pratt tap into the strong undercurrents pulling the Burmese and foreigners into an unknown zone. Political systems undergoing major transitions are like a phase transition of water to steam. Burma is becoming a different place but the old Burma remains. A revolution explodes with the stuff of a thriller. The realization there are consequences of this internal revolution at the most personal level was a compelling reason to write this book.
What is the status of SPIRIT HOUSE, the Hollywood movie based on the Vincent Calvino series?
Film Nation has optioned all 13 books in the Vincent Calvino series. The producers received an excellent script written by Chase Palmer, and the company is searching for the director. Hopefully by next year the movie based on SPIRIT HOUSE will have been made! The producers are moving ahead with the project and in the next twelve months, it should become clear as to Vincent Calvino’s fate on the big screen. Most of the action is set in Bangkok and story is a heart-pounding thriller.
Is crime underbelly of Thailand a place that you’ve researched? Is it boots on the ground in the back allies something you need to do, or do you let your imagination free reign?
Time spent researching is essential for me to find those telling details that make writing alive to the reader. No one location can ever tell anything but part of the larger story. There are several places I go to find information—prisons, courts, universities, slums, hospitals, shopping malls, bars, etc. Walking the streets and getting to know people in these settings is an important part of the research. The kinds of things that are illegal are also a telling fingerprint in any society.
A writer seeks to understand how choices are made, who makes the choice, how the laws are enforced, how wrongdoers and punished, how the poorest of the poor live, and what happens towards the end of life when the hospital, hospice or nursing home is the end game.
I make a point of going to these places and talking to the people I find inside: the cops, lawyers, judges, clerks, professors, students, criminals, doctors, nurses, street vendors, sellers, and try to make sense out of what I find, and look for the connections between these people.
I also write a weekly blog about crime and culture in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia at International Crime Authors Reality Check.
Who are your favorite authors?
George Orwell, Graham Greene, and Anthony Burgess—all three of them had Southeast Asia experience and wrote enduring novels set there. BURMESE DAYS, THE QUIET AMERICAN and THE MALAYAN TRILOGY were important influences. Luis George Borges was another author I read and loved early on.
As for contemporary writers, I greatly admire the novels of John Burdett, Colin Cotterill and Timothy Hallinan—a group of three novelists who have written (and continue to write) impressive novels set in Thailand. In terms of sheer style, quality of prose and storytelling, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are two other writers I continue to revisit their novels and short stories. Also I follow with interest of the books of Barry Eisler, Ernesto Mallo, Eliot Pattison, Michel Houellebecq, T. Jefferson Parker, Mike Lawson and George Fetherling.
There are many good authors. I read a lot of books, fiction and non-fiction, every year!
Canadian Christopher G. Moore is the creator of the award-winning Vincent Calvino Private Eye series (13 novels) and the author of the Land of Smiles Trilogy. In his former life, he studied at Oxford University and taught law at the University of British Columbia. In 1988, he came to Thailand. Twenty-five years on and 24 novels, one collection of short stories and three non-fiction titles, and the editor of three anthologies, he remains in Bangkok and far from having exhausted the rich Southeast Asian literary materials. His novels have been translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Turkish, Polish, Russian, Norwegian and Thai.
To learn more about Christopher G. Moore, please visit his website.