Asian crime fic­tion

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Crime Scene Asia Vol. 1 richard Lord Mon­soon books, 226 pages, fic­tion Re­view by JOEL WIJESURIA star2@thes­tar.com.my

SEX, drugs and mur­der. That’s how we like our crime. Or at least that’s what the nine au­thors fea­tured in this book of short sto­ries seem to think. As they lead us through seedy ho­tels, dark al­leys and go-go bars, we are given a glimpse of the sor­did un­der­world of Asia.

Rang­ing across South and South-East Asia, these nine tales of­fer ev­ery­thing from the pro­saic to the bizarre, across all lev­els of so­ci­ety. We are able to sym­pa­thise and pos­si­bly even em­pathise with the abused pros­ti­tute-turnedthief, while feel­ing hor­ri­fied at the story of the sec­ondary school teacher who re­ally is a se­rial killer.

I liked some of the sto­ries in this book, with some no­table picks be­ing You Get What You Paid For by Elka Ray, Wet Night­mares by Jim Al­gie and The Hanoi Sword Swin­dle by Wil­liam L. Gibson.

We’ve all heard sto­ries of the gold-dig­ging wife and the tapped-out hus­band. The story that Elka Ray spins out of these stereo­typ­i­cal char­ac­ters in You Get What You Paid For is sim­ple but gives us an in­ter­est­ing look into the new niche seg­ment of “mur­der tourism”. I felt that this story was well writ­ten and that it ex­plored its char­ac­ters as well as can be ex­pected within 16 pages. The au­thor’s style lent it­self well to al­low­ing me to feel as though I was wit­ness­ing the events of the story through the eyes of the pro­tag­o­nist. Un­for­tu­nately, the end­ing felt very trite and much too ju­ve­nile for the rest of the plot.

I felt as though I was read­ing a typ­i­cal sec­ondary school es­say, ter­mi­nated by word count.

Jim Al­gie’s Wet Night­mares is an en­thralling and grip­ping read about the afore­men­tioned pros­ti­tute­turned-thief. The au­thor takes us on an emo­tional roller coaster through the life and times of our pro­tag­o­nist, spin­ning a tale that leaves the reader fer­vently hop­ing that, some­day, her sim­ple dreams will come true and she will be happy once more.

I felt that this story was a well thoughtout, very real look at the life of a des­per­ate woman in a des­per­ate time just do­ing what she has to do to sur­vive. An ex­cel­lent read.

The Hanoi Sword Swin­dle is, in my opin­ion, the best writ­ten story in this collection. Au­thor Wil­liam L. Gibson writes with a style that in­vokes vivid im­agery, not only of the places that the pro­tag­o­nist trav­els to, but also of the char­ac­ters, both main and sup­port­ing. Even though the lan­guage used is light­hearted, there is a feel­ing of barely re­strained vi­o­lence lurk­ing just un­der the sur­face and this is ex­plored in great de­tail in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pro­tag­o­nist and his neme­sis. The swin­dle it­self is of no great im­por­tance. The au­thor chooses in­stead to flesh out the char­ac­ters one would sup­pos­edly meet in the crim­i­nal un­der­world and does a bril­liant job of mak­ing them be­liev­able and, in some cases, even like­able. I thor­oughly en­joyed this story.

Over­all, I feel that these sto­ries are some­what bland, and most of them are nowhere near the level of the crimes and crim­i­nals we read about in real life. Many of the sto­ries seem bet­ter suited for the YA (young adult fic­tion) sec­tion, as they deal with ex­tremely pro­saic crime, themes that have been re­vis­ited again and again over the years. These sto­ries are also writ­ten in lan­guage and style more suited to a younger au­di­ence, with pre­dictable plots and feel-good end­ings. I felt that at least three out of the nine sto­ries were guilty of this.

An­other peeve I had is with the num­ber of sto­ries about for­eign crim­i­nals in Asia. From what I can tell, we have plenty of very ca­pa­ble crim­i­nals in Asia and we don’t need for­eign­ers com­ing in and steal­ing the best crim­i­nal jobs. Why five out of nine au­thors chose to write sto­ries about for­eign crim­i­nals in Asia I sim­ply do not un­der­stand. I hope the next vol­ume gives bet­ter ex­po­sure to the crim­i­nal talent we al­ready have.

In short, an en­ter­tain­ing read for the ca­sual crime-fic­tion buff. May not ap­peal to ma­ture, Sher­lock Holmes fan types who are ac­tu­ally Asians in Asia.

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