‘Please enter.’ She spoke English like she meant it. This was no sing-song Asian English. She had the phonetics down. Maybe she had been trained by a lover who ate the classics. Perhaps she had lived inside television and theater. It wasn’t the kind of English that you picked up in the bars. Her lips were a pale pink and her smile was the kind that woodland animals warmed to. Those critters jumped up into her arms and nuzzled her like she were the second coming. Shit. She was a deer watching the first winter snow. A puzzled fox. She had hair. Shit. She had long hair. Long lovely hair. Oceans of hair. Hair that clogged the bathtub and hair that garnished soup. Hair that flew in the wind and got stuck in the eyes of migrating swallows. She had hair. Joe stepped inside the joint and followed that hair. It was like walking into the house of fun. She half-turned: ‘My name is Carmen, pleased to meet you.’
Very much a book of its time A Killing Smile is both a work of fiction and a guidebook for those heading to the neon underworld of Bangkok's bar scene. Before the internet one had to turn to a novels like A Killing Smile to find out the juicy details about 'the scene'. The stuff that didn't make it into the guidebooks made it into works of fiction. The kind of information that may save a tourist from a broken heart, an empty bank account, or worse.
Christopher G. Moore is the pioneer of Bangkok noir fiction. He has written about life and all her bruises in Bangkok for decades. A killing Smile is the book that got the ball rolling. Isaan b-girls, cutters, pissers, the scammers, the actresses. And their customers; lost alcoholics, grifters, chancers. Moore's writings are brilliant observations on the Bangkok nightlife and this one book is the benchmark that all other books on the Bangkok bar scene (including Christopher G. Moore's) have had to follow. It set the standard of an artistic movement: Bangkok Noir.
US lawyer Lawrence Barings’ wife Sarah dies in an auto accident. Lawrence travels to Bangkok to find his old college pal Tuttle stagnating in the Bangkok bars. There are no great plot twists. Little action. But the novel makes up for this with its richness in characters, description, dialogue and most of all setting. The cast is fantastic. Crosby the English trust fund kid who grew up on hookers and darkness. Snow who wants to go up north with a box of New York magic tricks to become a Lahu Godman. The tussle between Lawrence's western lifestyle and Tuttle's expat existence frames the major conflict and theme of the book. The novel deals with cultural shifts, personal adjustments, death and acceptance.
The novel is mainly written in third person, yet switches to second person to add descriptive depth. It also employs journal articles and letters. In many ways the novel was and is a creative triumph. It is a book I will read from time to time noticing something new each visit.
Backpackers changed their image and their philosophies more often than they changed their clothes. He opened the icebox and took another beer Singha. He swigged from the can and then put it down next to the Styrofoam boxes filled with the remains of breakfast. Chicken fried rice with a slice of lime. He wobbled slightly as he stepped over the equipment, closer to Alexandra.
“It is okay to be sacred. Fear is natural, don’t be afraid of fear. Fear hates to be confronted. Look her in the eye,” Franco said. It was just the two of them. The American couple hadn’t showed up. Franco thought about cancelling the trip but Alexandra was cute and the long-tail was already booked. He stood up towering over Alexandra and began to check the equipment. Her naivety made him wise. Her weakness was his strength.
The lounge was narrow and deep with a bar all the way along one side and a glass front looking out onto the road. The broker entered the bar and placed a pile of files onto the table. She offered her hand. Joe shook it. She was cute.
“Hi, my name is Carmen Collins.” She smiled and Joe felt a little lighter. She was half Latino, Spanish or Italian. She had a symmetrical nose that was so perfect it appeared synthetic. This nose sat above wide lips that parted to reveal a wide smile. She wore a full length beige winter coat with fake fur at the cuffs and collars. She looked like she had stepped out from the pages of a fashion magazine.
The quickest and most dangerous way to the zone was by motorbike taxi. At night the traffic was manageable. Hale sat on the back of a motorcycle taxi and gave the driver directions. The rider sped between vehicles, weaved around danger with enough speed to keep his line, no hesitation, no mistakes, no fear. Hale trusted the rider. He knew how to ride – as they sped through the traffic Hale felt a Buddhist sense of calm. The channel between a public bus and a Japanese pick-up was there to be exploited. He held onto the back of the seat and watched the streets rush by; fruit markets, clothing stalls, jewellery stores, fortune-tellers, road-side bars and restaurants. The night hung over the city like an oily canvas. They arrived at the zone and Hale paid the rider and tipped him heavily. The rider had earned it, he was direct and honest. It was these small victories that kept Hale smiling in the land of scams.
GANTIRA’S LONG hair framed a beautiful smile and a pair of brown eyes that rose upwards when curious and narrowed when angered or upset. She had thirteen different ways to smile and fewer than half of them meant happiness. She tiptoed around disputes where possible and let others dive into disasters if they chose to do so: it was the Thai way to do things.
Her father had money and she had never been without him or it. Bangkok was her home town but she was just as happy on the island of Ko Samui where she lived with her millionaire husband Shogun. Yes she was a bird in a gilded cage. She could spread her wings and spend his money. Life could be worse for Gantira. Much worse. She could have been that poor Finnish girl that died that day on the island. Killing was easier than dying.