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Big Money, Big Crime

by Christopher G. Moore


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Christopher G. Moore Big money and crime have been cozy bedfellows in literature. Writers long ago discovered that exploring the complexity in this connection yields a powerful combination of passion, adventure, intrigue, betrayal, and danger. Crime fiction becomes a literary search for motives and intentions of the players in the big money drama where crime operates as it has always done: another market force allocating resources.

What makes money and crime so beguiling is the interface with the police, judges, lawyers, private eyes, and others who are the machinery of law enforcement with those who seek to profit from breaking the law. Not all law-breakers are treated equally. Not all murderers are put behind bars. These are truths we know exist in the West. They are part of our history, part of our literature. We measure our progress by looking how well crime is contained to the margins.

Move the equation of big money and crime from the West to Southeast Asia and a number of fundamental premises change. The rule of law is fragile. Powerful forces operate above the law and the machinery of law enforcement is weaker, less developed more easily intimidated in a showdown. There are many reasons to choose from to explain such difference: the borders are less defined, less under the control of authorities and this allows criminal elements to run guns, women, drugs, logs with less chance of getting caught. The pay of the police is very low and this leads to corruption. The feudal notions of powerful clans and powerful clan leaders (warlords) continue to influence who can be punished and for what crimes. There is an absence of a large educated middle-class and instead one finds large gaps between the very rich and the mass of extremely poor landless farmers.

Haus der Geister How do the very rich obtain that wealth, protect it, hold it, and defend themselves against forces seeking to ambush them? That is a question anywhere. In Southeast Asia, where the rich often have obtained their wealth from monopoly licenses, dubious deals, and from the illegal world of gambling, drugs, and prostitution, there was a setting unlike no other to write crime fiction.

Prior to the launch of the Vincent Calvino private-eye series in 1992, no writer had tried to set a crime series in Southeast Asia. One wrote in the English language and by an outsider. Perhaps the thought of such a series was too alien placed in an environment where the shades of complexity between good and evil blurred beyond recognition. Also, there are a problem with the language - learning Thai is not an easy task - and there is the issue of access to inside of the machinery of law enforcement. There were (and remain) many barriers to overcome. There is no real history of such literature in this part of the world. Thailand among all the countries in Southeast Asia is the only one with a tradition of freedom of expression, which allow a writer to undertake a series of books about big money and big crime. Other, less tolerate regimes, would have stopped the progress, pulled the plug on the computer, asked the writer to leave or write something far less controversial or threatening. The thing about criminals is they fear exposure. In a culture where 'losing face' is one of the most terrible of consequences, any crime writer walks a fine line between the truth of the fiction and bringing down a brick wall on his head.

Spirit House As a former law professor, who has lived in Vancouver, New York and London before arriving in Thailand to live 12 years ago, I had spent time with law enforcement officers in big urban centers. I spent time in with NYCPD officers in Harlem and Brooklyn and saw from the inside what that kind of life was. In Thailand through good friends I was able to meet a number of good, honest Thai cops who sought to enforce the law as well as any cops elsewhere in the world. If anything, the obstacles to law enforcement provided a far more interesting environment as I was able to chronicle a particularly important decade of development in Thailand through the Calvino series.

It is not only the elements of criminal activity that go into making a good novel about crime. There must be a highly developed sense of place. One of the major characters in the Calvino series, is Bangkok. A geographically sprawl, with canals the color of dead batteries, traffic snarls where the roads turn into parking lots, motorcycle hitmen, slums, Patpong, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy - the Comfort Zone that so many tourists know; during the boom years of the 90s thousands of new buildings were started - many remain unoccupied if finished, and many remain unfinished. A city of ten million. The educated Thai-Chinese middle-class in luxury cars; the peasants from the Northeast in buses, on motorbikes or in the back of a tuk-tuk. Bangkok is a place where cultures clash: urban and rural, Chinese and Thai, Hilltribe and Thai, farang with Thai, the farangs themselves breaking down into their ancient clans of English, Germans, French, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finns and Russians. They are all here in Thailand. Many have been here for more than one generation. They are businessmen, diplomats, journalists, ex-military, chefs, hotel owners, engineers, lawyers, bankers, gangsters, felons, retirees and they find it difficult to leave as Bangkok despite of its drawbacks plays a siren song of strong desires.

Cold Hit In the Calvino novels I draw up the diversity of these cultures, following the characters attempt to retain a sense of identity as they slow create a new expat identity. In each of the Calvino novels the adversary is not the criminal; it is the City, the difference of cultural expectation, the social terrain where understanding breaks into pieces, sometimes leaving a trail of blood. Readers often say they see themselves and their own experiences in the novels. The best crime novels, like the best of any kind of literature, raise a mirror to a world and make it more recognizable. In novels set in our own culture, most of the internal workings of inter-relationships, people's expectations, their dreams come from a common base. Working, however, in another culture as a fiction writer, one can not make such an assumption. Part of the challenge of the Calvino task has been to create coherence in a number of sub-cultures: of crime, of expat life, of class, and of law enforcement.

At the end of the day, a crime novel is a reflection of the complexity of law enforcement. In the case of the Vincent Calvino novels, it is also a reflection of how these forces of law enforcement have developed over time; that is, finding the courage and means to apply the law to the untouchable class of the very rich. This is happening. It is also a continuing story. There is yet no end, only a beginning but it is at the beginning of the universe that we learn so much about how everything ended up the way it did.


© Christopher G. Moore, 2000


Spirit House
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1992]
1992 Haus der Geister
[Zürich: Unionsverlag, 2000]
Asia Hand
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1993]
Zero Hour in Phnom Penh
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2005]
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1994 unter dem Titel »Cut Out«]
1994 Stunde null in Phnom Penh
[Zürich: Unionsverlag, 2003]
Comfort Zone
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995]
The Big Weird
[Bangkok: Book Siam, 1996]
Cold Hit
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 1999]
1999 Nana Plaza
[Zürich: Unionsverlag, 2001]
Minor Wife
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2002]
Pattaya 24/7
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2004]
The Risk of Infidelity Index
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2007]
Paying Back Jack
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2008]


A Killing Smile
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1991]
A Bewitching Smile
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1992]
A Haunting Smile
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1993]


His Lordships Arsenal
[New York: Freundlich Books, 1985]
Tokyo Joe
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2004]
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1990 unter dem Titel »Enemies of Memory«]
Red Sky Falling
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2005]
[Bangkok: Asia Books, 1994 unter dem Titel »Saint Anne«]
God of Darkness
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 1998]
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2000]
Waiting for the Lady
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2004]
[Vancouver, B.C.: Subway Books, 2004]
Gambling on Magic
[Bangkok: Heaven Lake Press, 2005]


Heart Talk
[Bangkok: White Lotus, 1992]


To learn more about his novels visit Christopher Moore's homepage at


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