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Foreign Investigators: Crime Fiction in a Thai Setting

by Thomas Schmid, Bangkok

2 October 2009

Whatever the situation, a foreign private eye working without Thai partners and maintaining considerable local contacts is doomed to having a very tough time. “A foreigner asking prying questions, engaging in surveillance or other investigative activities would be very suspicious and would likely get reported to authorities. Good foreign investigators need Thai counterparts and agents and should have a great deal of knowledge of the Thai system, language and culture,” states Leeds, shattering the dreams of wannabes that without doubt must be out there somewhere in the wide, wide world, already contemplating a new life under palm trees. In this respect, John Burdett’s character Sonchai Jitpleecheep finds himself in a lucky position, indeed. As a Thai national and member of the local police force he can wallow in his cases at heart’s pleasure.

Calvino, on the other hand, enjoys the protection and support of the man whose life he once saved. The colonel even helped him procure a hand gun which, his buddy repeatedly warns, he must always keep concealed and never pull out in public; a warning that Calvino unfortunately disregards on occasion, of course. Thailand’s gun control laws are extraordinarily strict. Still, many Thais and – it is rumored – even some foreigners manage to acquire unregistered, thus illegal, hand guns or rifles through murky channels. While it is not entirely impossible for a foreigner to legally own a gun under certain circumstances, the process of legally obtaining one is arduous and subject to close scrutinizing by the authorities in charge. It is needless to say that 99.99 per cent of all such applications are rejected. “Thai nationality is normally a requirement to obtain a gun license. There are certain informal exceptions made for various foreign law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or DEA whose agents operate in Thailand. However, these would be cases where the law is not enforced, rather than exceptions to the law,” explains Leeds. Lucky Calvino, to have such a trusted and faithful friend!

With crime fiction centered on Thailand still being in its advent, avid crime novel fans certainly can look forward to more writers (and film makers) letting their very own private eye characters ramble, chase and sleuth their way through scoundrel-infested neighborhoods in the Land of Smiles. After all, the country really does provide the perfect setting – and a most attractive, exotic one at that. Meanwhile we all should be glad to have at hand such a talented and wonderfully creative phalanx as Moore, Burdett, Barrett and Needham. That shall do for the moment.

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