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Traverse Asia through the library’s mystery collections

Chris Wright. File photo
Chris Wright. File photo

By Chris Wright

Asian detectives are as plentiful as their European counterparts and just as interesting, perhaps more so when the spirit world is concerned. In this month’s column, we travel to Asia through crime and mystery fiction available through the Dana Point Library.

Thailand: John Burdett, a former lawyer from London, writes the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series set in Bangkok. It’s dark, sometimes disturbing, and funny when you have a police officer who tries to be honest when working for his thoroughly corrupt but politically savvy boss. Honesty can be rather relative on the hot, humid, mean streets and canals of Bangkok. Sonchai’s character also has a spiritual and shamanistic part to his character. There are five books in the series.

Timothy Hallinan writes a series about an American writer, Poke Rafferty, who has fallen for a bar girl named Rose. He gets into all sorts of adventures that make the movie The Hangover II, set in Bangkok, look innocuous. There are five books in the series with the sixth coming in Nov. 2014.

Laos: Perhaps the weirdest series is Dr. Siri set in 1970s Laos. It too dabbles in the space where reality meets the occult. Siri is about the quirkiest sleuth you will meet. He’s the coroner for the Communist government. He speaks French and is in his 70s. He’s also sometimes possessed by a shaman. He’s fought the French, the Americans and now he just wants to be left alone, but he’s reluctantly called in to solve cases because of his ability.

Dr. Siri is the master of the morgue and getting to the truth. He’s rather irreverent, flippant and also charming. There are nine books in the series and they have very interesting titles like “The Merry Misogynist” and “Disco for the Departed.” These are written by a Brit who lives in Thailand, Colin Cotterill, who has since started another series, also set in Thailand, with a female newspaper reporter, Jimm Juree.

China and Tibet: Eliot Pattison writes the Inspector Shan series which is set in Tibet. Shan has fallen from grace as a Communist police officer and has been sent to prison or re-education camp to atone for some perceived wrong. So he’s a prisoner who is drafted into helping solve local cases and he has much empathy for the Tibetans who are his fellow prisoners, especially the monks and the holy men who won’t renounce Buddhism.

It’s a very insightful book into Tibetan culture and Buddhism. It’s also a book that takes a critical look at the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the government’s heavy hand in suppressing culture and liberty. There are seven books in the series.

Lisa Brackmann writes another interesting series involving a wounded American Iraq War veteran working in China to get by. Ellie McEnroe represents a dissident Chinese artist. She is getting divorced, is in pain from her war wounds and frequently self-medicates with alcohol. She ends up doing a favor for a friend and trouble seems to find her wherever she goes.

The two books in the series have her traveling all over China. She’s not sure if the Chinese government, crime syndicates or even Western defense contractors are after her. She’s always on the run or on the hunt for someone eluding her, plus her mom comes to visit and immediately shacks up with her neighbor.

Through these tales, we get to visit lots of interesting places you have never heard about and Google Images can help bring them to life.

Chris Wright is not sure if he lives to read or if he reads to live. He has been a public librarian with the OC Public Libraries since 2006.

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