Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Moon Angkor Wat – Third Edition out now!

The third updated edition of Moon Angkor Wat, my English language guide to the Angkor temples in Cambodia is out now, both in print and ebook format.

Reviewer Janet Brown had this to say:

I’m the kind of person who reads guidebooks to remember where I’ve been as well as to plan my next destination and in Tom Vater’s latest guide to Angkor Wat, I was given the opportunity to do both. From its extraordinary photographs, many of them taken by the author, and its wealth of clear and comprehensive maps, to its generosity in giving more than readers would expect from its title, this isn’t just a good guidebook. It’s an essential handbook to a generous portion of Cambodia, one that’s so well written that it can be enjoyed by armchair travelers as much as it will be used by those lucky devils with Cambodian visas stamped in their passports.

The Angkor Archeological Park is one of the most overwhelming places in the world, with beauty and mystery that can hit travelers like a tsunami and cause them to miss so much in order to see it all. Vater knows the temples well, not just the show-stoppers like the Bayon and Angkor Wat, but ones that are farther afield and easy to overlook. His detailed descriptions and careful directions ensure that his readers will see as much as they have time for, while visiting with an informed understanding of what they’re looking at.

But this book is a guide to more than the temples. Travelers staying in the nearby city of Siem Reap are given not only the basic recommendations for hotels and restaurants, but ones for bookstores and the city’s best swimming pools, for photography tours and the Cambodian version of Cirque du Soleil, the Phare Circus. Vater is frank about which museums are overpriced and which are worth seeing and why his readers can pass up Phnom Kulen.

Phnom Penh is covered in scrupulous detail including why it should be visited soon, but for me the best part of the book is the section that takes readers off the well-worn tourist tracks. From the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to the spectacular grandeur of Preah Vihear, travelers are told how to get there and why they might want to, except in the case of Pailin, where they’re warned of “fleabag hotels,” and informed that the city ‘is no culinary paradise.”

A standout for me in this portion of the book is Battambang, a river city that’s less than three hours from Siem Reap where French colonial architecture coexists with Khmer modernism from the 1960s, where the art scene that was destroyed by the Pol Pot years is being revived, where Angkorean temples are woven into the fabric of daily life, and the original Phare Circus provides education and training to young Cambodians who might not otherwise receive it. With its good coffee, reasonable hotels, and a bookstore too, Battambang may turn out to be my next home in the world. Thank you, Tom Vater and Moon Handbooks!

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The Monsoon Ghost Image is 99cents!

The Monsoon Ghost Image, the third installment of the Detective Maier series, published by Crime Wave Press, is on a virtual book tour this week.

And an ebook copy is yours for just 99cents.

The third Detective Maier mystery is a taut and crazy spy thriller for our disturbing times.

When award-winning German conflict photographer Martin Ritter disappears in a boating accident in Thailand, the nation mourns the loss of a cultural icon. But a few weeks later, Detective Maier’s agency in Hamburg gets a call from Ritter’s wife. Her husband has been seen alive on the streets of Bangkok. Maier decides to travel to Thailand to find Ritter. But all he finds is trouble and a photograph.

As soon as Maier puts his hands on the Monsoon Ghost Image, the detective turns from hunter to hunted – the CIA, international business interests, a doctor with a penchant for mutilation and a woman who calls herself the Wicked Witch of the East all want to get their fingers on Martin Ritter’s most important piece of work – visual proof of a post 9/11 CIA rendition and the torture of a suspected Muslim terrorist on Thai soil. From the concrete canyons of the Thai capital to the savage jungles and hedonist party islands of southern Thailand, Maier and his sidekick Mikhail race against formidable foes to discover some of our darkest truths and to save their lives into the bargain.

Review of The Monsoon Ghost Image by Col’s Criminal Library.

Late to the party as usual with my first taste of Tom Vater’s Detective Maier series in what may prove to be his final outing.

Tense, violent, brutal, gripping, stunning and a savage indictment on how America conducts itself overseas in a post-9/11 world. Angry and political would be an apt description, as a hunt for a German photographer in Thailand, a man who faked his own death morphs into something much bigger.

I really enjoyed this one. There’s a darkness at it’s core and Vater conveys his outrage convincingly. Our protagonist, Maier ably assisted by Mikhail – a friend and fellow detective-cum-bodyguard-cum-security expert – track down the missing man, Ritter and uncover a photograph Ritter has taken. The Monsoon Ghost Image opens up a can of worms for our two accomplices and a massive red target has just been painted on their backs.

Torture, experimentation, dark arts, technology, big brother, black ops, rendition, a manhunt, a mysterious ally (or maybe not), Thai military complicity, a chilling and deranged doctor with hynoptic almost other-wordly powers and a penchant for creative surgery, a German billionaire with a callous indifference for humanity and an isolated jungle playground, ideal for indulging his sickness… and a helluva lot more.

At its heart we have Maier and Mikhail, our moral compass, shining a torch for the good guys and trying desperately to survive and outwit opponents with much greater influence and resources, while pondering what to do with the image. Mikhail with his previous tutelage in the Russian military/intelligence service is a bit more pragmatic than Maier in respect of fighting fire with fire, if it ensures their survival.

Topical – even though it’s set in the early 2000s, relevant, entertaining, thought provoking, decent settings, though I may have been dissuaded from ever wishing to visit Thailand in the future, sympathetic characters, pacey, not over-long and relevant.

 

The Monsoon Ghost Image goes on tour

Moon Angkor Wat 3rd edition out now!

The brand new third edition of my Moon Guide to the Angkor Wat temples is out now and it looks fantastic.

Here’s my complete line-up of titles for Moon, a US based travel guide publisher.

Get your copy here.

Reader and fellow author Janet Brown wrote:

I’m the kind of person who reads guidebooks to remember where I’ve been as well as to plan my next destination and in Tom Vater’s latest guide to Angkor Wat, I was given the opportunity to do both. From its extraordinary photographs, many of them taken by the author, and its wealth of clear and comprehensive maps, to its generosity in giving more than readers would expect from its title, this isn’t just a good guidebook. It’s an essential handbook to a generous portion of Cambodia, one that’s so well written that it can be enjoyed by armchair travelers as much as it will be used by those lucky devils with Cambodian visas stamped in their passports.

The Angkor Archeological Park is one of the most overwhelming places in the world, with beauty and mystery that can hit travelers like a tsunami and cause them to miss so much in order to see it all. Vater knows the temples well, not just the show-stoppers like the Bayon and Angkor Wat, but ones that are farther afield and easy to overlook. His detailed descriptions and careful directions ensure that his readers will see as much as they have time for, while visiting with an informed understanding of what they’re looking at.

But this book is a guide to more than the temples. Travelers staying in the nearby city of Siem Reap are given not only the basic recommendations for hotels and restaurants, but ones for bookstores and the city’s best swimming pools, for photography tours and the Cambodian version of Cirque du Soleil, the Phare Circus. Vater is frank about which museums are overpriced and which are worth seeing and why his readers can pass up Phnom Kulen.

Phnom Penh is covered in scrupulous detail including why it should be visited soon, but for me the best part of the book is the section that takes readers off the well-worn tourist tracks. From the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to the spectacular grandeur of Preah Vihear, travelers are told how to get there and why they might want to, except in the case of Pailin, where they’re warned of “fleabag hotels,” and informed that the city ‘is no culinary paradise.”

A standout for me in this portion of the book is Battambang, a river city that’s less than three hours from Siem Reap where French colonial architecture coexists with Khmer modernism from the 1960s, where the art scene that was destroyed by the Pol Pot years is being revived, where Angkorean temples are woven into the fabric of daily life, and the original Phare Circus provides education and training to young Cambodians who might not otherwise receive it. With its good coffee, reasonable hotels, and a bookstore too, Battambang may turn out to be my next home in the world. Thank you, Tom Vater and Moon Handbooks!

Interviewed by Colman’s Criminal Library

Following a great review of my latest novel The Monsoon Ghost Image, Colman from Colman’s Criminal Library has taken the time to interview me, and I in return, have taken the time to ramble incessantly about my self and my work, to the point where it’s almost indecent.

Here’s a taster….

From what I little I know, you’re a German national, with a strong connection to Asia. You run a well-respected indie publishing house – Crime Wave Press – you write fiction and non-fiction in the form of travel guides and more. What don’t you do?

Ah, yes, that is my quick bio, thanks, Col. You saved me all the heavy lifting. To add to that briefly… I have walked across the Himalayas, had the opportunity to dive with hundreds of sharks in the Philippines, and witnessed the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of people in the world. I have travelled with sea gypsies and nomads, pilgrims, sex workers, serial killers, rebels and soldiers, politicians and secret agents, artists, pirates, hippies, gangsters, policemen and prophets. Some of them have become close friends. Others appear in the articles and books I write.

I am a journalist specialising in South and Southeast Asia. I’ve also written a bunch of non-fiction books including bestsellers like Sacred Skin (www.sacredskinthailand.com) and several feature documentaries. That’s the day job which I love. But I got into all this because I wanted to write fiction. I wrote my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, just as I was starting off in journalism.

I don’t jump out of planes, I don’t eat sea food. I don’t take my hat off.

Read the rest here, support freelance writers, and buy my books. Thanks, happy Xmas and Happy New Year.

The Monsoon Ghost Image reviewed at Col’s Criminal Library

Col’s Criminal Library posted a fantastic review of The Monsoon Ghost Image today.

Late to the party as usual with my first taste of Tom Vater’s Detective Maier series in what may prove to be his final outing.

Tense, violent, brutal, gripping, stunning and a savage indictment on how America conducts itself overseas in a post-9/11 world. Angry and political would be an apt description, as a hunt for a German photographer in Thailand, a man who faked his own death morphs into something much bigger.

I really enjoyed this one. There’s a darkness at it’s core and Vater conveys his outrage convincingly. Our protagonist, Maier ably assisted by Mikhail – a friend and fellow detective-cum-bodyguard-cum-security expert – track down the missing man, Ritter and uncover a photograph Ritter has taken. The Monsoon Ghost Image opens up a can of worms for our two accomplices and a massive red target has just been painted on their backs.

Torture, experimentation, dark arts, technology, big brother, black ops, rendition, a manhunt, a mysterious ally (or maybe not), Thai military complicity, a chilling and deranged doctor with hynoptic almost other-wordly powers and a penchant for creative surgery, a German billionaire with a callous indifference for humanity and an isolated jungle playground, ideal for indulging his sickness… and a helluva lot more.

At its heart we have Maier and Mikhail, our moral compass, shining a torch for the good guys and trying desperately to survive and outwit opponents with much greater influence and resources, while pondering what to do with the image. Mikhail with his previous tutelage in the Russian military/intelligence service is a bit more pragmatic than Maier in respect of fighting fire with fire, if it ensures their survival.

Topical – even though it’s set in the early 2000s, relevant, entertaining, thought provoking, decent settings, though I may have been dissuaded from ever wishing to visit Thailand in the future, sympathetic characters, pacey, not over-long and relevant.

Blurb for The Monsoon Ghost Image, third installment of the Detective Maier Mystery series published by Crime Wave Press.

DIRTY PICTURES, SECRET WARS AND HUMAN BEASTS – DETECTIVE MAIER IS BACK TO INVESTIGATE THE POLITICS OF MURDER

The third Detective Maier mystery is a taut and crazy spy thriller for our disturbing times.

When award-winning German conflict photographer Martin Ritter disappears in a boating accident in Thailand, the nation mourns the loss of a cultural icon. But a few weeks later, Detective Maier’s agency in Hamburg gets a call from Ritter’s wife. Her husband has been seen alive on the streets of Bangkok. Maier decides to travel to Thailand to find Ritter. But all he finds is trouble and a photograph.

As soon as Maier puts his hands on the Monsoon Ghost Image, the detective turns from hunter to hunted – the CIA, international business interests, a doctor with a penchant for mutilation and a woman who calls herself the Wicked Witch of the East all want to get their fingers on Martin Ritter’s most important piece of work – visual proof of a post 9/11 CIA rendition and the torture of a suspected Muslim terrorist on Thai soil. From the concrete canyons of the Thai capital to the savage jungles and hedonist party islands of southern Thailand, Maier and his sidekick Mikhail race against formidable foes to discover some of our darkest truths and to save their lives into the bargain.

Interviewed at Rainne’s Ramblings

I am interviewed at Rainne’s Ramblings this week about my brand new novel The Monsoon Ghost Image, the Detective Maier Mystery series and about how I became a writer.

Here’s a taster:

How did your journey as a writer begin?

I was living in a cheap room in a cheap guest house on Freak Street in Kathmandu in the mid 90s. The couple in the room next door had cycled from Europe to Nepal and were trying to sell stories about their adventures. I was in Nepal recording indigenous music, I had a tiny grant from the British Library to do this. The couple’s English wasn’t great, so I helped them edit their stories and then went to a local newspaper with them. They sold one of their stories and I asked the editor if he’d buy a story by a foreigner about Nepali music and he said yes.

I don’t think I’ve done anything else professionally since then, other than writing. I wrote a few articles for the paper in Kathmandu and then went back to the UK and was interviewed by Rough Guides and then sent to Thailand to write part of a guidebook. Once in Thailand, I started working for local magazines. Then international ones. Now I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, covering cultural, economic stories across South and Southeast Asia for a bunch of media outlets. And I write crime novels and co-own a crime fiction publishing house, Crime Wave Press .

Incidentally, that couple, I met them again a year or so later in Thailand and by that time they’d been on the road for so long, they’d gone crazy. They thought everyone was out to get them. We spent a couple of days together in the south and had planned to travel to a remote island by the Thai Burmese border. But then they suddenly accused me of having stolen some of their money and broke into my hotel room to beat the crap out of me. They didn’t find their money of course and scuttled away eventually. I lifted that moment into my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu.

Read the full interview here.

The Monsoon Ghost Image reviewed at Crime Segments

“I’d read anything written by Tom Vater — his mind works in strange and mysterious ways, a quality I genuinely appreciate in the crime fiction universe”

Latest, very kind review of The Monsoon Ghost Image by Nancy O at Crime Segments.

My first experience with this small indie press was, coincidentally, a book by the author of the book featured in today’s post, Tom Vater.  The title was The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu,  and it was a hell of a story that I remember not wanting to put down, so naturally I said yes when asked if I’d consider reading another one by the same writer.   This time around the action takes place in Thailand, and The Monsoon Ghost Image is the end of a trio of books featuring Detective Maier after The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man With the Golden Mind.   

Former war correspondent, after years in the field and the death of a friend from Cambodia, Maier no longer wants nothing at all to do with war.  He now (2002) works  in “Hamburg’s most prestigious detective agency,”and as the story begins, his boss Sundermann hands him a strange case.  It seems that he has had a call from an Emilie Ritter, a woman whose famous photo journalist husband Martin Ritter is missing, presumed dead, with a funeral scheduled for the following Tuesday in Berlin.  Maier knows this already, but he gets a gut punch when Sundermann reveals that Ritter was seen in Bangkok just a couple of days earlier.  Emilie shows Maier and his partner Mikhail an email from someone with the enigmatic name of the “Wicked Witch of the East” confirming that Ritter is not only still alive, but is also “involved in the crime of the century.”  Emilie needs to know whether Ritter is dead or alive, so Maier and Mikhail are off to Thailand to try and track him down.  They’re there a month with no sign either way, the calm before the storm after which all hell breaks loose, centering around “the world’s most wanted photograph, the 21st century’s Zapruder document.”

As with most thriller novels, while reading The Monsoon Ghost Image  on one level I’d advise a complete suspension of disbelief, as the story explodes into seriously crazy, over-the-top territory.  Our detective friends find themselves caught up in some of the most bizarre situations imaginable (and I’m not joking here).  The story outdarks dark  — there are at least two psychopaths whose actions will likely keep readers on the edges of their chairs, and knowing who to trust becomes downright impossible through the many twists and turns taken by this story.   Having said that, let me also say that underneath this craziness runs an undeniable grain of truth — in the war on terror, there are certain agencies that will go to any lengths to get results, all “authorized at the highest levels of the world’s most open and egalitarian society.”  In the process, sometimes the line between good guys and bad guys becomes unrecognizable, and things get worse as they attempt a cover up in an effort to ensure that  their dirty secrets will never be revealed. And then, of course, there are others who just want to exploit those secrets for their own gain — in short, as someone notes in this book,  “it’s about money.”

I am not normally a reader of thrillers, and while this one is, as I said, way over the top, I actually got caught up in it because I had to know what happened next.  Each time I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did, and it was a hair-raising ride to the finish.  It is not at all for the squeamish (I found myself reading quickly through some of the many gruesome scenes, the equivalent of covering my eyes while watching the same on television), and it is not for people who freak out over the use of profanity or violence.  In the end though, what made this book work well for me was a) the focus on that underlying grain of truth mentioned above combined with the author’s out-there imagination  in telling that story (!)   and b) the author’s depiction of Maier as a man who through it all tries to retain his humanity while others lose theirs by the wayside.  Throw in the exotic locations throughout Thailand and well, it becomes the stuff of a tv miniseries I would definitely watch.

Read the full review here.

A Prison Encounter With Charles Sobhraj, Asia’s Most Infamous Serial Killer: CriMemoir by Tom Vater

This is my first-person account of interviewing serial killer Charles Sobhraj in prison in Kathmandu in 2003.

Indian parents tell their children that Charles Sobhraj will come and eat them if they are naughty. That’s what crossed my mind as I walked with Canadian photographer and documentary film maker Steve Sandford through the gate of Kathmandu prison – which looked like a Spaghetti western film set, much like its watch towers and armed guards – into the visitors’ area, a long narrow room, split in half by a low wall and strong chicken wire that reached up to the ceiling. Visitors had to sit down on stone benches. To our left and right families were shouting across the low wall, through the chicken wire to their incarcerated relatives. This was Christmas 2003 and we were here to interview a man infamous and feared across a continent. Charles Sobhraj, one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, was awaiting trialin Nepal and had agreed to grant us an interview. So had the prison authorities. Charles Sobhraj spent more than twenty years on the road across Asia befriending backpackers, drugs-smugglers, diplomats and businessmen, then drugging, robbing and finally strangling or burning his acquaintances. He is said to have killed between twelve and twenty times.

Read the full story at Hardboiled Wonderland.

Interviewed by Debbi Mack

I was interviewed by New York Times best selling author Debbie Mack the other day about my latest novel, The Monsoon Ghost Image, my publishing house Crime Wave Press and the eternal Travis McGee.

Debbi: [00:01:03]  So my assumption is that you started with journalism and went into crime writing. Would that be correct?

Tom: [00:01:14] Well, actually it sort of happened hand-in-hand, because the first article I ever wrote for a newspaper was in 1997 for a paper in Nepal. And while I was there I started thinking about writing my first novel The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, which then eventually came out in 2004. So it it kind of happened at the same time. But I would say that you know between the pieces of fiction I write there are long gaps for professional reasons. And so most of the time I have a day job. I do journalism and when I have some months off and I can sit down and write a novel.

Debbi: [00:02:02] So you’re primarily a journalist who also does crime writing?

Tom: [00:02:07] Yeah, you could say that. I also own a small publishing house Crime Wave Press, which is a crime fiction imprint based in Hong Kong which does mostly e-books and we’ve published about 32 titles by all sorts of authors, many of them from the US. So that’s my other gig. So I kind of do three different things I’m a crime fiction writer, I’m a very small press publisher with have just one partner, and I’ve written four crime fiction novels and a bunch of short stories.

You can listen to or read the full interview here.

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