Tom Vater

Tom Vater

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

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Mekong Shadows anthology on Cambodian book shelves

Mekong Shadows, the new anthology of fiction from and about Cambodia, published my Saraswati Publishing is not available in print from Monument Books in Cambodia.

The story collection features and extract from The Cambodian Book of the Dead along with contributions from many local and ex-pat writers.

Read a review in Thailand’s The Nation.

Researching Moon Angkor Wat 3rd Edition

Currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to research the 3rd edition of the Moon guide to Angkor Wat.

Just had a gloriously sunny day amongst the monuments, with few other visitors in sight away from the main sites. Adding a chapter on how to beat the crowds….

Mekong Shadows reviewed in The Nation

Great write-up by Paul Dorsey in today’s Nation newspaper for the Mekong Shadows anthology with praise for The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

The anthology’s best episode, hands down, is actually a long excerpt from “The Cambodian Book of the Dead”, a taut and disturbing novel by Tom Vater (“Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos”). Rippling with clever wordplay, it’s a very dark reading indeed of Phnom Penh. Vater evokes “the smell of the tropics, saturated with reincarnation and ruin, this hypnotising combination of extremes, of promise and danger, of temptation and failure”.

Read the full review here.

Mekong Shadows – A collection of short stories set in, or with connections to, Cambodia. There are tales of hope, of love, of despair, and even a sprinkling of black magic. Featuring stories from John Daysh, James Newman, Mark Bibby Jackson, Steven W. Palmer, Tom Vater, John Burdett, and many more.

Mekong Shadows anthology features The Cambodian Book of the Dead

Earlier this week, Saraswati Publishing in Phnom Penh launched Mekong Shadows a new anthology of dark tales from Cambodia.

Edited by British journalist Iain Donnelly, this collection includes both Cambodian and ex pat writers, both complete unknowns and widely published authors, including Kosal Khiev, John Burdett and James Newman.

Feedback has been positive with coverage in the Khmer Times and the Phnom Penh Post.

The anthology features a couple of chapters from my first Detective Maier novel, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, currently out with Crime Wave Press.

Grab a copy of Mekong Shadows at Amazon

Grab a copy of The Cambodian Book of the Dead at Amazon

Master of escape seeking to become master of Noir – Roy Harper talks

Roy Harper, who has escaped three times — twice from the State Penitentiary at Parchman —has written two crime novels now from his small cell there, editing each one on an illegal cellphone. Both ‘Shank’ and ‘Heist’ are out with Crime Wave Press.

Jerry Mitchell reports for the Clarion Ledger. Read the full story.

Here’s the opening paragraph of ‘Shank’.

“Buck, that’s what they call home brew here. It’s wine made from fermented fruit and it usually tastes pretty damned awful. Dirty socks; turn that smell to a test and that’s what buck puts me in mind of.

“In search of ways to escape reality most inmates will consume anything; subject their system to any mood-altering substance in pursuit of a high. They’ll drink Windex or squeeze the fluid out of stick deodorant for its alcohol.

“Myself, I’ll drink a little buck or smoke a little weed now and then to take the edge off and relax, but my favorite mood-altering activity comes from exercise, especially running and weight training. Standing an even six foot in my socks and a few pounds under two hundred, I’m healthy and fit.”

A recent Amazon review:

Having spent time in prison myself, the first thing I’d like you to know is that Roy Harper’s terminology is accurate. For example, “Buck” is some horrible tasting, and I mean horrible, prison wine (the fruit, typically oranges taken from the Kitchen, does smell like dirty socks once fermented and added to the toilet water) and can usually be found in toilets for celebrations, such as New Year’s Eve. This very first word brought me back to my own prison experience, and I can tell you I was shell shocked. Immediately I felt I was back. For this reason, if you are looking for an authentic prison novel, guess what? You’ve found the real deal.

Laure Siegel’s Hong Kong dossier at ARTE TV

Just spent a mad week in Hong Kong, following ARTE correspondent Laure Siegel conducting interviews  with ten residents on the imminent 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the colonial Britishers to the Chinese, for ARTE TV.

Check out the Hong Kong Dossier here. My portraits are in the vignettes of Témoignages : les voix de Hong-Kong.

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia in The Nikkei Asian Review

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia – Creative training offers an alternative lifestyle for young performers

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — It is a stiflingly hot Friday evening in Siem Reap, western Cambodia. The big top is packed, and there is an air of excitement as 300 or so spectators squeeze onto narrow wooden benches. Backstage, the artists are getting ready.

The lights dim, and the audience falls silent. Traditional Khmer music emanates from the darkness. A blue light appears above the performance area as 12 actors kneel in a circle, ready to launch into “Eclipse,” a highly physical and beautifully performed reflection on Cambodian village life, rejection and the gods. Seconds later, bodies glide and fly through the air in gravity-defying stunts that are a mixture of spectacle and narrative.

As Cambodia continues to wrestle with its tragic history and current dysfunctional governance — mass bombing by the U.S. in the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge communist revolution and genocide in the 1970s, civil war in the 1980s and 1990s and subsequent political dominance by authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen — foreign acclaim for the impoverished Southeast Asian kingdom has been rare…

Ralf Tooten talks Bangkok Noir

German photographer Ralf Tooten talks to me about his best selling photo book Bangkok Noir at

Read the interview here.

Photograph by Laure Siegel.

Interview by Sonia Kilvington

I am interviewed this week by crime writer Sonia Kilvington on all things Crime Wave Press and my two Detective Maier mysteries, The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Mind.

I first came to Cambodia in 1995, illegally on a speed boat from Trat to Koh Kong. Someone wrote that Cambodia is the most dangerous country in the world, first you fall in live with it and then it breaks your heart. Someone else had told me that a kilo of weed was one US$ in Cambodia. I wanted to find out whether either was true. And it was, and there was more…

Read the full interview here.


Bangkok’s Chinatown at heart of heritage battle in The Nikkei Asian Review

Activists take on government over plans to transform culturally-rich area.

My latest on the continued cultural impoverishment of Bangkok with Laure Siegel in The Nikkei Asian Review this week.

BANGKOK — It is Friday night and Soi Nana is ablaze with lights. Most of the shop houses that line this 400-meter-long road in Bangkok’s Chinatown have thrown their doors open. A photo exhibition about migrant workers is opening at Cho Why, a cultural center in a beautifully restored corner house. Further down the road, Victor Hierro and Sudaporn Sae-ia are serving cocktails at El Chiriguito, a popular Spanish tapas bar. “I badly wanted to live in Chinatown,” says Barcelona-born Hierro. “One day, a friend showed me all the empty houses on this street. The rent was cheap. The house we chose had not been inhabited for 20 years. Most Thai people don’t want to move into these houses because they are old and full of ghosts.”…

Read the full story here.