Monday, 6 April 2015

The Mysterious East

With  Downton somewhat over, and Scandal, Suits, House of Cards, Covert Affairs, Blacklist, and Homeland becoming too grisly or violent, I feel a mystery reading binge coming on. 

Luckily I recently discovered (starting initially with John Burdett's Bangkok 8, thanks to the well-read Peter Kavanaugh, author of The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Timessome writers who have abandoned the American gumshoes and the British detective inspectors, in favour of wise and amusing Asian detectives, solving mysteries wrapped in enigmas and uknowns, in Bangkok, Tibet, Vientiane, Shanghai, Hong Kong, etc. 

Most of these quick-thinking men are living by their considerable wits to out-manoeuvre not just crooks and murderers, but their corrupt police forces or tyrannical political regimes:
  • Eliot Pattison’s INSPECTOR SHAN series.
    (Set in modern Tibet: “In an earlier time, Shan Tao Yun was an Inspector stationed in Beijing. But he lost his position, his family and his freedom when he ran afoul of a powerful figure high in the Chinese government ...”). 
  • Colin Cotterill’s DR. SIRI PAIBOUN series.
(“Laos, 1976. The monarchy has been deposed, the Communist Pathet Lao have taken over. Dr. Siri, a French-trained physician, 72, is the national coroner of Laos, and is also a most reluctant shaman.” He dances a careful, often wry, dance around the communist authorities, having become a considerably less than enthusiastic communist.
  • John Burdett’s SONNCHAI JITPLEECHEEP series.
    Sonnchai is a half-American, half-Thai Buddhist detective whose mother runs a Bangkok brothel (“Nobody knows Bangkok like Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and there is no one quite like Sonchai: a police officer who has kept his Buddhist soul intact—more or less—despite the fact that his job shoves him face-to-face with some of the most vile and outrageous crimes and criminals in Bangkok.”)
  • Robert van Gulik’s JUDGE DEE series. (Based on the historical figure Ti Jen-chieh 
    (c. 630–c. 700), magistrate and statesman of the T’ang court, these cases are set in ancient China, all solved by the upright Judge Dee (in ancient Chinese crime stories, judges are often in the role of the detective.)
  • Qiu Xiaolong’s INSPECTOR CHEN series featuring Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau and set in relatively contemporary times.

It's refreshing to be off the mean streets of L.A. and New York and even away from the blazing fires of the English "cozies" and into the unfamiliar -- at once hilarious and a split second later terrifying --landscapes of these murder- and mystery-solving gentlemen who conjure and contort to avoid prison or re-internment themselves. 

-- Margo Lamont

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