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Best Five Bangkok Mystery And Thriller Novels

Updated on April 6, 2011

For any literary fans of crime, mystery and thriller novels you should try picking up a few books that are based in Bangkok.

Christopher G. Moore, John Burdett, Timothy Hallinan, Stephen Leather and Dean Barret are master authors with a strong following of readers and fans in and out of Bangkok. Their skillful writing, likable characters and personal experience and knowledge of the city deemed as the 'Big Mango' creates the perfect atmosphere for mystery and thrills.

Bangkok is a city that evokes and oozes exotica. They bring about a perspective of Thailand that the Tourism Authority of Thailand would never want to print on their brochures. On the surface the city and its citizens observe and practice a culture of conservatism deeply rooted in Buddhist and animist beliefs that is then taken into an electric blender and mixed with Thai superstitions and black magic.

You would think that a county with a population of 95% devout Buddhist would have nothing to do with corruption in government in all forms and where crime,sex greed walk hand in hand. But if you scratch the surface that's what you will find.

The books I recommend here capture the essence of the seedy underbelly and behind the scenes happenings of Bangkok with a certain aspects of flair and ambiguity thrown in of course. Though any expat or long stay resident in Bangkok will tell you that things on the surface are always not what they seem.

By no means am I trying to frighten anyone thinking about visiting Bangkok. It really is a wonderful tourist friendly city. And chances are if you are staying here as a tourist you won't even come across the bad stuff that come across in the books. Let's face it, every major city has its own degree of crime, culture of corruption, crazies and neurotics. And just like in any other major city if you are looking for trouble, trouble will find you. It is as plain and simple as that.

All the authors of these Bangkok based mystery and thrillers either live full time in the city or have stayed here for an extensive period. You can see and feel the rawness and spirit of the city and atmosphere that they masterfully recreate in their books. The characters in their books come alive and across the 'real characters' that probably exists in some form or another. Anyone living in Bangkok long enough will tell you that the city seems to attract the oddest lot the world has scene. There is definitely no shortage of writing material for a top rate mystery and thriller novel based in Bangkok.

All of the books I recommend here are not ranked in any particular favorite order. They are all excellent reads by their own right. So pick and choose as you like which ones you think you would like to read first.

Though I will be starting off with Christopher G. Moore, an author I met inside one of Bangkok's popular haunts.

Christopher G. Moore

I was introduced to Moore through a mutual friend inside a popular local haunt in Bangkok's Sukhumvit district. You can see his books plastered all over book stores carrying English literature. Before I met him I had never read his books before. But after talking and speaking with him a bit I didn't need anymore convincing at all to pick up the novel Spirit House.

The Spirit House is the first in the series of Vincent Calvino novels. Calvino is an ex-cop and ex-lawyer working as an private investigator in Bangkok. Calvino is far from perfect and he does dabble in the delights of Thai female companionship for sale. He is certainly a gritty character, kind of like Han Solo from Star Wars and he is just as likable

John Burdett

This is the first ever Bangkok thriller and mystery novel I've read. And it was the one that started me on the search for more. The main character, Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a policemen in Bangkok. May not sound like much, but he is probably the only uncorrupted cop in Bangkok's Royal Thai Police Force.

Beside getting a good glimpse of how the Thai police 'operate' Burdett also gives good insight into the city's notorious bar industry.

It is through Sonchai's voice, the author gives an excellent glimpse into Thai spirituality and beliefs that they lead on a daily basis that gives an interesting perspective about Thailand.

Timothy Hallinan

Poke Rafferty is the name of the protagonist in this series of novels. Poke is a travel writer turned investigator. This novel is an introduction to a character with a bit more heart and is not as gritty and dark as the novels above. But his writing style and story line does create a lot of action.

This is also the first novel in a series and introduces all the characters that revolve around Rafferty's world like his girlfriend a former popular go go bar dancer and a daughter he wants to adopt.

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Stephen Leather

To be blunt Private Dancer gives a glimpse of what it's like to be a whore monger in Asia. And on the flip side it also gives a glimpse of what Thai women working in the sex industry think of men who fly halfway across the world to sleep with them.

This is definitely not the type of book a Western woman would want to read but in a nutshell it is not as raunchy as a nickel romance novel but simply the plain truth on paper about what goes on behind the scenes in the city's red light districts.

Dean Barret

Dean Barret is a well known expat figure living in Bangkok for a very long time. He has probably been here longer than all of the authors I mentioned here. Murder at the Horney Toad Bar is the only book that I like out of the dozens of books Barret has written, though I've only read a few from him.

Now I'm not saying his books are bad. It's just that his writing style is not what I prefer. Though I do know plenty of expats who keep his books on their shelves and enjoy them thoroughly.


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    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 6 years ago

      Interesting information. I will buy those novels.