Non-fiction books are often judged by the training, reputation and experience of the author. These background qualities are the basis of the authority that makes the author’s opinion or judgment valued and respected. When we pick up a non-fiction book about the West Bank, Gaza, Istanbul, Vientiane, or Bangkok, the creditability and authenticity of what we read is in the minds of most readers tied to the belief that author has a firm grasps of place, language, people and culture.
It is our view, that contemporary crime fiction should be measured by the same standard. We are four international award-winning authors who have set a crime fiction series in a country very different from the one where we were raised and educated. The books we’ve written have been translated into many languages. Our success as authors has, in part, grown because we take considerable pride in getting the detailed reality of the human situation in our part of the world and the perception of that reality into synch.
In this blog we will be discussing how we go about researching our books, creating characters in a foreign setting, dealing with language and history, and making it all accessible to readers who may have never traveled to the places we write about. We will also discuss books set in the places we know and give our opinions. None of us are shy in expressing those. We hope to stimulate lively discussions from readers, and we also have lined up a number of guest bloggers whose books, like ours, are set abroad.
Given our background—Matt lives in Jerusalem, Barbara lives in England but spends a great deal of time in Istanbul, Colin lives in the South of Thailand, and Christopher lives in Bangkok. Collectively we’ve been living and writing from abroad for more than half a century. Our books draw upon our knowledge, experience and understanding of the place where we live.
Colin Cotterill’s “Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery introduces readers to a delightful old man conscripted in 1975 to become the chief medical examiner of Laos after the nation’s only doctor with a background in performing autopsies had crossed the river” into Thailand, “allegedly in a rubber tube.” Siri thought he’d settle down with a state pension after helping the Communists force the Laotian royal family from power, but the party won’t let him retire until he is a drooling shell.” (Booklist Starred Review)
Matt Beynon Rees’s “humanizes the struggle of the West Bank, where Omar Yussef, a modest 56-year-old schoolteacher in the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp, becomes an unlikely detective amid the uncertainties and violence of modern Bethlehem.” (Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review)
Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen is a police detective who has been compared with Morse, Rebus and Wexford. “The city of Istanbul provides a rich background for an engaging plot and a cast of remarkably well developed, colorful characters. Add Inspector Ikmen and his motley crew to the growing list of outstanding fictional cops plying their trades across all parts of Europe and Asia, which have become hotbeds of police procedural excellence.” (Booklist)
Christopher G. Moore’s Vincent Calvino series has been described as “Intelligent and articulate, Moore offers a rich, passionate and original take on the private eye game, fans of the genre should definitely investigate, and fans of foreign intrigue will definitely appreciate.” (Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine)
Our books shadow the books of novelists who have gone before. Authors who found a way to incorporate the culture, language and history of foreign place into their fictions. Graham Greene, George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Somerset Maugham are our heroes. Though only Graham Greene wrote a number of books that would fit into the current definition of crime fiction. Our common link is to describe the inequalities and injustices in evolving political systems that are in transition. Unsettled political and social environments produce conflict, and the bread and butter of crime fiction is to follow characters whose lives are caught up in the chaos of change and to try and understand the nature of the emotions they experience, their feelings of hope and despair, finding a voice to express their fears and dreams.
Each of us will have our say once a week. We hope that you will submit comments and suggestions. The purpose is to reach out to readers who want to know more about how we go about doing what we do.