Tom Vater

Tom Vater

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

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Sacred Skin – A behind the scenes short video by Hans Kemp – Music By Keith Nolan


Check out this new short film by photographer Hans Kemp on sak yant, Thailand’s sacred tattoos. Music by Keith Nolan.

TIME Magazine Review (Asia Edition)

Luck of the Draw

By Andrew Marshall Monday, May 23

Read more:,9171,2071020,00.html#ixzz1MpMZ1QpH

The introduction to Sacred Skin, Tom Vater and Aroon Thaewchatturat’s new tribute to Thailand’s sak yant, or sacred tattoos, begins with an agonized exclamation: “Uaaahh!” So it should. While modern tattoos are efficiently (though not exactly painlessly) applied with an electric machine, sak yant are hand-hammered into your wincing body with a long needle.

But no pain, no gain – and, if you believe the enthusiasts, the rewards are out of this world. Devotees credit sak yant with warding off sickness, attracting lovers and helping them emerge unscathed from car crashes. A housewife caught in last year’s crackdown on antigovernment protesters in Bangkok tells the authors, “People around me got shot but my tattoo protected me.”

Sak yant are etched onto both soul and skin, as Thai photographer Aroon’s portraits record in hypnotic detail. The mostly monochromatic designs borrow from Buddhist and Hindu mythologies, and the space between them is often overlaid with an ancient Khmer script that German writer Vater likens to “mysterious instructions.” Designs are executed by priestlike figures who have their own secret ink recipes and recite prayers while they work. Their customers see themselves as disciples, bound for life to their master and feeling a kinship with all those bearing his designs. Some disciples are also in thrall to the tattoo’s spirit. That introductory “Uaaahh!” emanated from a man who believed he was possessed by the spirit of the tiger tattooed on his torso. Vater describes him careering around a Buddhist temple near Bangkok in a trance so violent that it took five soldiers to subdue him.

Prominent among sak yant enthusiasts are police, soldiers and gangsters, who claim bullets bounce off their magical second skin. Many Thais still associate tattoos — even sacred ones — with lowly or violent professions, but there are two things wrong with this view. First, explains Vater, many devotees give up lives of crime after getting sak yant, believing the tattoos’ potency depends upon their living decent lives. Second, the appeal of sak yant is broadening, not just among trendy young Thais but also foreigners, partly thanks to Angelina Jolie, who has a tiger sak yant on her back.

With its stunning photos and exuberant writing, Sacred Skin will further popularize a centuries-old tradition. In Thailand, sak yant have survived decades of economic development and Western influence. After warding off these modern forces, bad luck and bullets should be easy.

The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu reviewed at The Crime Segments


“There are plenty of unique, crazy and offbeat characters that fill this novel, and the author has a keen eye for detail.  The part of this story that took place in the Blue Parrot is one of my favorites, and is an excellent example of how the author sets a scene that sucks the reader right into the action. Using impressive descriptions, dialogue that’s totally believable and creating such a realistic atmosphere that you feel like you’re actually there along with the boys from the bus drinking it all in, he’s created a world out of this nightclub that I hated to leave. And that’s only one instance … he does the same where ever the action is — in Pakistan, India, and most especially in Kathmandu.  This is definitely not your average crime novel, which is a very good thing. Definitely and most highly recommended.”

Read the full text of this excellent new review of The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu at The Crime Segments.

Thailand’s Happiness


Cambodia 2014 – High and low and in between


I have just been on an early research trip for the second edition of my Moon Angkor Cambodia guide, first published in 2011. Cambodia has come a long way since then, the country is a little better well off and the poor are not quite as desperate  as they were a decade ago, but the culture of impunity remains pervasive, the government remains dangerous and corrupt and the magnificent Angkor temples remain under assault from millions of tourists who appear to have little interest in Khmer history and tend to focus on doing selfies with their GoPro or Iphone sticks.

That said, the temples are achingly beautiful and there are rare moments of quiet and contemplation, especially at the lesser visited sites. This Vietnamese lady was unconcerned about the crowds in Angkor Wat and made a showy effort with her prayers at every shrine she passed.

Sacred tattoos in the Nikkei Asian Review


I just wrote a new article on Thailand’s sacred tattoos in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Photographs by Aroon Thaewchatturat.

Sacred Skin in Rise Tattoo Magazine

Rise Tattoo Magazine #31 - Sample

Rise Tattoo Magazine #31 - Sample

I am interviewed in this month’s Rise Tattoo Magazine from France. Big thanks to Dom Pichard and Laure Siegel.

The Man with the Golden Mind reviewed at Crime Review UK


…there is little relief from a barrage of very dark deeds and sudden grisly deaths. To mine any humour from this book you will need a very black view of the world.

Chris Roberts reviews The Man with the Golden Mind at Crime Review UK.

As previously mentioned, my publisher Exhibit A decided to call it a day after just a year in business. Bad news for the many writers Ex A signed, but I am trying to see the silver lining in this…in six months, the Maier novels will be mine again. And I have a third Detective Maier novel in the pipeline.

Crime fiction publisher Exhibit A folds after just 12 months.

CambodianBookOfTheDead-72dpi    TheManWithTheGoldenMind-72dpi

Exhibit A Books, the publisher that put out my first two Detective Maier novels, The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Gun, folded yesterday after just a year of publishing.

How this imprint might have imagined to start making a significant profit in such a short time without proper promotional tools, proper media exposure and proper author publisher communication remains a mystery as twisted and impenetrable as those in the books published by Ex A.

I am currently writing the third Maier Mystery – Monsoon Ghost Image – and will find another way to publish that title next year. In the meantime, the first two Detective Maier books remain in print and available.

Here’s the statement from the publisher:

As you will be aware, Angry Robot Books has a history of innovation and we continue to go from strength to strength. We’re constantly trying out new concepts and new ideas, and we continue to publish popular and award-winning books. Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have – due mainly to market saturation – unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.

We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.

The Man with the Golden Mind – Podcast


Stuart Beaton interviews me on The Man with the Golden Mind…and everything else at The Small Picture Postcast today. Thanks Stuart.

Julia Rendel asks Maier to investigate the twenty-five year old murder of her father, an East German cultural attaché who was killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976. But before the detective can set off, his client is kidnapped right out of his arms.

Maier follows Julia’s trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties, including his missing client are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets. But the real prize is the file’s author, a man codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy and assassin no one has seen for a quarter century.

Tom Vater is a writer and publisher working predominantly in Asia. He is the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based English language crime fiction imprint. He has published three novels, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, currently available in English and Spanish, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, and The Man with the Golden Mind, released by Crime Wave Press in Asia and world wide by Exhibit A. Tom has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The South China Morning Post, Marie Claire, Geographical, Penthouse and other publications.

He has published several non-fiction books, including the highly acclaimed Sacred Skin (with his wife, photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat) and the more recent Burmese Light with photographer Hans Kemp. Tom is the co-author of several documentary screenplays, most notably The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature on the CIA’s covert war in 1960s Laos. In his spare time, Tom travels and plays punk rock.

Tom is a brilliant author, and it was great to talk to him again – he’s got to be one of the most widely travelled Asian reporters going, and his range of work is incredible! This interview not only looks at Tom’s new book, but also his thoughts on the latest Thai coup, his current rock tour of Europe, and his and other authors’ upcoming Crime Wave Press books… it’s a pretty packed quarter of an hour!

RocknRoll Interlude – On Tour with The London Dirthole Company


I’ve been on tour with The London Dirthole Company, legendary London based noise creatives. The music made by The London Dirthole Company is a joyful ride into the world of the modern Outsider artist as a musical phenomena. As out of time and place and unreservedly important as The Fall, The Monks and The Velvet Underground. The London Dirthole Company forge an uptempo thundering garage pop hybrid that is inexplicably both brutal and sensitive.

dirthole supreme 4

Here’s my take on the first show in Antwerp. From there we crawled to Berlin, Kolding and Copenhagen… more dates this summer. Can’t wait.


Dirt time. Pay dirt. We hit the stage, most of us in sharp suits, and do the job, loud, bestial and with a wry grin down into the cavernous venue, the audience behind the cameras, squashed against the wall by the Dirthole noise. The sound is great in an aggressive, merciless way and the band churns like an old, well oiled steam engine, defying time, space and bad clothes down below. Ashley counts in the songs, there’s no need for long introductions or pauses, the Dirthole is always ready. We start with the one-riff party stomper From A to B, naturally, and finish with the RocknRoll burnout Amnesia. Peter jerks and wails, his skinny frame in retro-fitted Saville Row garments, bouncing up and down in front of the wall of drums and metal like an East End dervish. Rob in pinstripe hits the drums like a man used to wet work, Roger in bulky silk suit doing the Escobar to perfection, Kirsten a scary beautiful scarecrow, a Keith Richards caught in the Fluxus movement, beating the shit out of an upturned sink. At the back, Debbie starts the songs and puts down the grooves with frightening precision though they are instantly assaulted by Ashley’s barely in tune bass monster. The Dirthole maestro stands on stage as if on deck of a 19th century whaling ship, a punk rock Captain Ahab, out to spear his audience and, if necessary, jump down its throat. Professor Paul, cowboy hat and Telecaster clangs across the songs, such as they are, with furious stakato accents that would make a renditioned CIA hostage instantly lose his mind. I stand in the wings, hat in my face, and keep a tight riff going, trying to remember songs I barely know. It’s all good. It’s a glamorous rehearsal. Halfway through the show I glance across at Ashley and find myself in a weird time warp, young and old at the same time, and definitely noisy. Noisy as a Dirthole


All my dreams are coming true. Everything rains on me. I can’t take no more, Everything rains on me.

Listen to I can’t take no more.

dirthole supreme sm