An expat's views

I don't know if it's true about other countries, but people who have been to Thailand for any length of time between two weeks and 20 years feel impelled to write a book about it. From what they have seen, heard and experienced they believe they understand the Kingdom and its denizens. And if they have learned Thai, they know that much more.

Watching The Thais by Tom Tuohy 232pp, 2012 Bamboo Sinfonia paperback Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 395 baht

I've lost count of the number of guidebooks and bar girl/farang mis-match stories I have reviewed. The vast majority are superficial. A rare few get beneath the surface. All too many are inter-changeable (not all farangs are materialistic, all Thais are spiritual, again!). Watching The Thais by Tom Tuohy doesn't fit any one category, overlapping several. A Londoner based in Bangkok since 1997 (by way of Saudi Arabia), wed to a Thai, he teaches English. Not as farangs usually do to pick up change to continue their travels, but as a career.

Though he doesn't yet qualify as an Old Thailand Hand with two decades in residence, he has lots of personal impressions of the Land of Smiles. Tom _ Ajarn Tuohy _ is well read on the subject, perhaps more so on the English language, such as the best way to teach it.

His comments about traffic jams in the capital are spot on, but bus drivers really don't take uppers and lowers to navigate through it. And he might have mentioned that unlike elsewhere, the horn honking here is negligible. As for Thais refusing to walk more than a few metres, the crowds of street shoppers disprove that.

The author turns his big guns on CNN and the BBC for taking the side of the Red Shirts while ignoring the efforts of the government to keep the peace. Why didn't he also mention that more than a few of the vernacular media sided with the demagogue in exile?

Tom is irate at the corruption in which a heavy chunk of the education budget goes into the pockets of scoundrels. And he warns against mixed marriages between elderly farangs and young Thais, quoting news stories of all too many of these retired husbands being murdered by the wife and her Thai lover.

Farangs thinking about settling here are asked to think twice. That even if they go native in every sense of the word, they will never be considered a member of the Thai group. In his bibliography, Tuohy oughtn't to have passed the knowledgeable Christopher C. Moore, who has a deeper insight into Shangri-La.

The Nightmare by Lars Kepler 501pp, 2012 Blue Door paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 595 baht

Arms dealing

I am opening this critique with a quote from the book under review to give you the broad picture of what you are letting yourself in for, for 500 pages. "Every single day, 39 million bullets are made. Worldwide military spending, at the lowest estimate is $1.26 trillion a year.

"In spite of the fact that enormous amounts of armaments are manufactured, the demand never lessens and it is impossible to estimate the volume. The nine largest exporters of weapons in the world are the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, and China."

It was in his novel The Dogs Of War that Frederick Forsyth detailed how illegal arms were sent from Europe to Africa. The paperwork passed muster, signed and counter-signed, bills of lading checked and double-checked. There was nothing to indicate that the country of origin and the country of destination were lies.

That was 1980. Three decades later, Swedish author Lars Kepler takes a similar approach in The Nightmare. The Swedish villain of the piece is Raphael Guidi, who adds a new dimension to the term 'evil'. A yachtsman with a mysterious source of income, he is, in fact, an arms dealer. On the face of it, Raphael is paying bribes to expedite a legitimate shipment of arms from Sweden to Kenya. But they originated in the Netherlands and are meant for the rebel militia in Darfur, battling Sudan. He goes to great lengths to recover an incriminating photograph of him and the Darfur chief.

The protagonist is Stockholm CID Detective Inspector Joona Linna. To make them three-dimensional, Raphael needs a new liver and he has a hitman kill everyone standing in his way. A sadist, he gives a man a choice: to shoot his wife's or his sister's kneecaps.

An addiction I found distracting is that Raphael collects violins the incomparable Paganini played. The story is action-packed _ on land when the German embassy is blown up, at sea when the Finnish Coast Guard gets in on the act.

The characters are all stabbed, shot, blown up; some surviving, others not. Joona does what detective inspectors are expected to do, his experience and gut feelings spotting clues his subordinates miss.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer