I fell under the spell of my first influence when I was five years old and living in Washington, D.C. My parents had scheduled a night out, and the baby-sitter bailed at the last moment, so I got hauled along to a dinner in a “real” restaurant and then a movie that my parents thought would bore me senseless.
It enthralled me. It transported me. It made me want to leave my body and fly through the air instantly to wherever it was that movie took place. That was the only place in the world I wanted to be.
The movie was “The King and I,” and the place, obviously, was Thailand. And here I am, 175 years later, living in Thailand part of each year and writing about it. And as much in love with the place now as I was when I first saw “The March of the Siamese Children.”
So my first influences were Rodgers and Hammerstein. Later, I identified more traditional masters for a thriller writer, artists whose work triggered something inside me that made me ask, “Could I do that?” The first of these was the inescapable Raymond Chandler. For all that Chandler repeatedly credited Hammett with inventing the modern whodunit (Hammett gave murder back, Chandler said, to the kind of people who create it), for me the real alchemy came when Chandler created Philip Marlowe.
Chandler also changed my world view. Reading him at, say fourteen, I first became aware that light is, so to speak, a local phenomenon, courtesy of an accidentally nearby star, and that we actually live surrounded by a kind of ravenous darkness in which anything can happen to anyone at any time. That's the thing, I think, that gives Los Angeles sunlight the uniquely cold, chromium brilliance it has in Chandler's books.
In my late teens and twenties I discovered writers who specialized in throwing light onto moral gray areas – first, the great Eric Ambler and second, the incomparable Graham Greene. I became fascinated with shadings of right and wrong, with the idea – new to me then – that moral absolutes were a luxury of the well-fed. Things look much grayer when one's children are hungry or when the rat-infested slum in which you live is set fire to in order to clear land for a skyscraper, or when an 18-year-old girl has to weigh prostituting herself against making money to feed her parents and keep her brothers and sisters in school.
More recently, Robert Wilson's wonderful Bruce Medway books, set in Africa, have explored this ground with skill and a kind of energetic compassion.
So here I am, writing about the land of “The King and I,” using a form borrowed from Chandler and his followers, and exploring a morally complex universe. And as happy doing it as a pig in mud. I have the luxury of living someplace I love (Bangkok) and managing complicated daydreams for a year or so until they're book-length. And my newest Bangkok thriller, BREATHING WATER, has gotten the best reviews of my career, including eight or ten “thriller of the year” designations from sites such as Reviewing the Evidence and Gumshoe Review, as well as some almost embarrassingly positive print reviews.
So I may spend most of each year in Bangkok, but you can give my regards to Broadway.
Timothy Hallinan has lived, on and off, in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years. He wrote songs and sang in a rock band while in college, and many of his songs were recorded by by well-known artists who included the platinum-selling group Bread. He began writing books while enjoying a successful career in the television industry. Over the past fourteen years he has been responsible for a number of well-reviewed novels and a nonfiction book on Charles Dickens. For years he has taught a course on “Finishing the Novel” with remarkable results – more than half his students complete their first novel and go on to a second, and several have been, or are about to be, published. Tim currently maintains a house in Santa Monica, California, and apartments in Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan.