Bangkok Rules


An old hand in Thailand, Harlan Wolff is a Private Investigator (PI) who has worked in Bangkok since 1977.  Deliberately keeping a low profile, because of his work, this book is a breakaway from his usual under the radar life.

Bangkok Rules (ISBN 978-1-62620-586-4, Bangkok Ink, 2013) by Harlan Wolff was released this year and was printed and published in Thailand.

Billed as a thriller, the prologue has your first mutilated dead body, so the gasps start from page 2.  No waiting.

Author Wolff has used his time in Thailand very well, and it is obvious that he understands the Thai psyche and its attendant culture.  He even comes up with his own definition of ‘Thainess’.  “…the foundation of ‘Thainess’ was a desperate ambition to make it from birth to cremation without encountering serious embarrassment.”  A few pages later, he opines, “It (Thailand) is a society built on levels of power and bullying and is all part of the norm.”  And businessmen discussing “…how they could best steal 1,000 rai of land from the Forestry Department, bribe the Land Department to issue ownership documents, and then put it on the market for a small fortune.”  Anyone who has scratched under the Thai smile will attest to this way of business.

Wolff’s description of the client his PI was servicing, is one that we all recognize.  “… a man who was happily living a celebrity lifestyle with a young model attached.”  He continues in the next sentence, “What the rest of the world saw was an elderly, grossly overweight sweating foreigner, holding hand with a micro-bikini clad teenage girl with plastic tits, Eff-me tattoos, bright green fingernails and a permanent scowl.”

The basic plot begins around this client who has come to see the Bangkok PI Carl Engel to locate his long-lost brother.  Unfortunately the client meets his demise, so no further installments will arrive in the PI’s bank.  However, the PI has uncovered much information regarding a serial killer, that he decides to go it alone.  Unfortunately, the scent leads the PI to leading figures in the Thai Military, and stringers for the American CIA.  With the current leaking CIA documents dramas, this situation in Thailand is completely believable.

Like all good PI’s Carl Engel has his assistant (Sherlock Holmes has a lot to answer for!) and it appears that our Carl definitely needs an assistant.

Author Wolff has placed the thriller in contemporary Bangkok, which gives the narrative some reality, something that is needed for a thriller to hold the reader’s attention.

It has the feel of being written for the big screen, with enough of a plot, and plenty of drama.  The final scene is particularly interesting, as all the building blocks fall into place, leaving the reader breathless with the pace.  And it is not known till the very end whether the bad guy gets what is owing to him.

At B. 429, this book is at the cheaper end of the today’s book price scale, so represents good value for a thriller such as this.  My copy came from the Bookazine shelf in The Avenue.