Category Archives: Timothy Hallinan

Don’t You Feel Like Trying Something New?*

trying-a-new-seriesNot long ago, I asked you to share your thoughts about authors who write more than one series. I wondered whether you actively look for other series by an author whose work you love. Many thanks to those of you who responded!


Now, let’s take a look at what you told me:




As you can see, of the 25 of you who responded, 10 of you (40%) told me you’re eager to try another series by an author whose work you really love.  That in itself isn’t an overwhelming majority. So, on the surface, it might seem that attachment to a particular author doesn’t make you rush out and try that person’s new series.

But then, I noticed something interesting. Of those who responded, 11 of you (44%) said that you actively look for a top author’s other series if that series is the sort of crime novel you like. What that suggests to me is that sub-genre (or style) of crime novel is at least as important (perhaps a bit more) as the fact that it’s an author you love. If you think about it, this means that 21 of you (84%) actively seek out a new series by an author you love. Admittedly, for many of you, that depends partly on the sort of series it is. Still, that’s a hint of some loyalty to your top authors.

But you’re not blindly loyal. You also think about what sort of book you want. What does this all mean? To me, it shows there are several factors that impact your decision of which series to read. One important factor is your feelings about the author. Another is your taste in crime fiction. In other words, it’s not just one thing that guides your decision making, even if that thing is your love for a particular author’s work. And that makes sense. Someone who really likes pitch-black noir might think twice before picking up a light, fun, ‘frothy’ cosy mystery, even if both books were by the same author.

And, consistent with that, 2 of you (8%), said that you actively seek out a new series by an author you love if it’s a similar sort of series (e.g. both PI series). This tells me that sub-genre also impacts what you’ll read.

What conclusions does this suggest? One conclusion that I’ve drawn is that your choices of what to read are affected by several factors. It’s not only a matter of whether or not you love a given author’s work. It’s more multidimensional than that. That said, though, it seems that your feelings about a given author do impact your reading choices. If you’ll notice, only 2 of you (8%) told me that your feelings for an author don’t influence your choice of what to read. What this means to me is that the impression an author leaves on you does matter. If that’s true, then I’ll bet you probably avoid a series by an author whose work you’ve really disliked. I don’t have the data to support that conclusion (yet), but that sort of finding wouldn’t be surprising, given what you told me about authors whose work you do like.

What might this mean for authors? If all of this reflects the way readers really make their choices (and remember, this is a very, very limited set of data), then it might suggest something about the sort of branching-out authors consider. Some authors, such as Elly Griffiths and Timothy Hallinan, have been quite successful writing two different sorts of series. The same is true for J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith, Kerry Greenwood, and others. But it is a risk. When two series are very different, readers might not be eager to make the move to the new series, even if they’re fans of that particular author. That’s not to say it’s impossible to have two very successful, but very different, series. Several authors have done so. But it takes planning, strong writing (of course!) and some luck.

What do you folks have to say about this? I’d really like your reactions. If you’re a writer, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on branching out to another series.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joe Jackson’s Breaking Us In Two.


Filed under Elly Griffiths, Kerry Greenwood, Robert Galbraith, Timothy Hallinan

Adventure of a Lifetime*

extreme-adventuresHave you ever been on what a lot of people call an extreme adventure? People who go on those adventures don’t necessarily do so for the kinds of goals most of us might think of at first. Many don’t take those adventures to reach a specific place, or to find food. Rather, they want to dare themselves to complete the task. And there’s something to that, if your goal is to test your mettle.

Those sorts of adventures can add an interesting dimension to a crime novel, too. For one thing, the forces of nature can add an element of suspense to a novel. After all, hiking in virgin forest, zip-lining, and climbing mountains are dangerous. For another, all sorts of things can happen on such adventures, simply because the people who engage in them are human. They have their own histories and ‘baggage.’

Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty knows about the sort of person who likes this type of adventure. He’s an ex-pat American who now lives in Bangkok. He earns his living as a rough travel writer, creating guides for those who want to forego the ‘tourist’ destinations. And some of the places he’s written about are dangerous. Rafferty is also rather good at finding people who would rather not be found. And that’s a skill that comes in useful for the people who hire him as a sort of unofficial PI.

Sam Hilliard’s The Last Track introduces readers to former Special Forces operative and smoke jumper Mike Brody. Now, Brody is co-owner of S&B Outfitters, an extreme adventure tour company.  He guides clients through the tours; and, of course, his role is also to see that they’re as safe as possible. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife, Jessica, had planned a trip to Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. They decide to go through with the holiday, mostly for the sake of their son, Andy. While they’re at the dude ranch, another guest, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson, goes missing. It turns out that he witnessed a murder, and is now afraid (and with good reason) that the killer will target him. It’s bad enough that Sean is so young; it’s even worse that he’s inexperienced. So Brody is engaged to go out into the country around the dude ranch and try to find Sean before the killer – or the elements – do.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind takes place on New Zealand’s South Island, a place of great natural beauty and plenty of rugged, unspoiled places for those who like to test themselves against the elements. In the novel, fledgling psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson, who lives and works in Dunedin, gets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Over the course of several sessions, Elisabeth begins to trust Stephanie enough to tell her a haunting story. Years ago, Elisabeth’s younger sister Gracie disappeared. No sign of her was ever found – not even a body. This story is eerily similar to Stephanie’s own history. Seventeen years earlier, her own younger sister Gemma also disappeared – again, with no trace ever found. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her personal ghosts to rest (and get some answers for the Clark family). She travels from Dunedin back to her home at Wanaka to find out who was responsible for so much devastation. Along the way, she meets Dan, a hunting guide whose specialty is taking clients into South Island’s wildernesses. Dan invites her to take a tour with him; and, although it’s not usually her sort of thing, Stephanie is persuaded to go. In the process, she gets a real understanding of what people find so appealing about such adventures. The land is unspoiled, the water absolutely pure, and the natural beauty is breathtaking.

In Donna Malane’s Surrender, we meet Wellington-based Diane Rowe, who is a missing person expert. In one plot thread of this novel, a grim discovery is made in Rimutaka State Forest: the remains of an unknown man. Inspector Frank McFay hires Rowe to try to find out who the man was, and how he came to be in the forest. Little by little, she’s able to put a name and identity with the remains. She finds that, among other things, the victim enjoyed the sort of adventure that pitted him against the elements. In this case, he ran into more danger than he’d bargained for, as the saying goes.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. In that novel, a Los Angeles-based company called Vestco is planning to release a new genetically modified seed coating that, so its manufacturer claims, will eliminate hunger. The Millbrook Foundation, an environmentalist watchdog group, has been suspicious for a long time about both Vestco’s claims and its motives. The foundation is convinced that the seed coating could be dangerous. But, with only nine days to go, the group hasn’t been successful at preventing the scheduled release, and Millbrook has decided to stop fighting it. Legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan has chosen to retire from the foundation, and return to his native New Zealand. He’s invited Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell to go with him for a short visit to New Zealand before they return to work. What they don’t know is that one of Vestco’s employees, Henry Beck, has been murdered, and that they will be framed for it. Once Vestco learns that they’ve left the country, the company uses all of its considerable influence to catch the three people who are now regarded as international fugitives. If they’re going to outwit their enemies, they’re going to have to make use of all of their resources, and that includes Duggan’s wide-ranging experience in out-of-the-way places. Along the way, they get help from an assortment of people, including an extreme adventurer who gives them some very useful equipment as they go deeper and deeper into the back country.

Extreme adventuring isn’t for everyone. But some people swear by the feeling of empowerment that comes from climbing that mountain, or going down that rough patch of whitewater. And those plot points can add a layer of interest and tension to a crime novel.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Coldplay.


Filed under Donna Malane, Geoffrey Robert, Paddy Richardson, Sam Hilliard, Timothy Hallinan

Is My Timing Right?*

TimingAn interesting post from FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, and the comments we exchanged, have got me thinking about timing. Many different sorts of things can affect what we think of a book we’re reading. There’s the obvious things such as plot, characters and so on. There’s also the matter of personal taste. We’re all different in the sorts of stories we enjoy.

But another, subtler, factor in how we feel about a book is arguably the timing of when we read that book. For the reader, timing can have an impact in several ways. For instance (and this is the sort of thing FictionFan and I were ‘talking’ about), if you read a book when it first comes out, it may feel fresh and new. That can add to your enjoyment of a novel. That’s especially true if the novel adds an innovation to the genre, or in some other way digresses from it. But if you read it later, after other, similar books have been released, you may feel quite different about it.

One example that comes to my mind is Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. At the time the novel came out (1988), the psychotic-serial-killer motif wasn’t a major factor in mainstream crime fiction. That novel arguably made room in the genre for that sort of story. Since then, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, there’ve been many, many novels with crazed serial killers. Some are better than others. But it’s not a new and innovative theme any more. I wonder how that’s impacted readers who hadn’t previously read The Silence of the Lambs. Would they regard that novel as the trend-setter that it arguably is? Would they see it in a different way?

There’s also the sub-genre that’s recently (in the last few years) been called domestic noir. Of course, there’ve been many novels in which marriages fell apart, and people weren’t what they seemed. But novels such as Julia Crouch’s Cuckoo, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, and Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner have brought the domestic noir novel to the forefront of current crime fiction. And that raises (at least for me) the question of what today’s readers might think of books such as Margaret Yorke’s Speak For the Dead, which was published in 1988. In that novel, Gordon Matthews marries Carrie Foster, and on the surface, all starts well. But each one has a dark past. Matthews was recently released from prison for killing his first wife, Anne. The way he and his lawyers tell the story, it was a case of manslaughter, and Anne was a promiscuous, alcoholic shrew who pushed her husband too far during an argument. But is that the truth? For her part, Carrie is a former prostitute who gets back on the game a few years after they marry. As the story of their marriage, and the tragedy that follows, goes on, we see a real example of domestic noir. Would readers who’ve experienced plenty of domestic noir see this as a taut, fresh look at a marriage? Would they see it as stale?

There are other ways to look at timing, too, of course. If you’ve just finished reading a series of bleak, ‘hardboiled’ crime novels, you might be ready for something lighter. So work such as Carl Hiaasen’s or Chris Grabenstein’s might appeal. Neither author writes ‘sugar coated’ crime fiction, but there is plenty of wit in it. At another time, though, you might think those very same novels too comic, and perhaps too absurd. The same is true for cosy mysteries. If you’ve just been reading a lot of light crime fiction, you might find work like Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef series too light. On the other hand, if you’ve been reading a lot of dark crime fiction, that same series might really appeal.

Timing matters for authors, too. For instance, after the commercial success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, many other novels with a similar domestic noir theme were released. I’m sure you could list more than I could. On the one hand, the success of Gone Girl allowed those other novels more exposure than they otherwise might have had. Publishers were more willing to take a chance on them, and people were more interested in the themes. On the other hand, do readers think of those other novels as ‘me, too?’ Do they look at them with fresh eyes? This raises questions for the author. Is it a good idea to pick up on a theme that’s had some success, so as to hopefully get more exposure?  Is it a matter of ‘me, too,’ or is it a matter of ‘there’s a market for this sort of book?’ Or is it something else?

And then there’s the element of when in one’s life one reads something. Perhaps you started your crime-fictional journey with classic and Golden-Age crime fiction such as Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, or Anthony Berkeley. Since then, let’s say, you’ve branched out and gotten very interested in the modern hardboiled PI novel (Timothy Hallinan, for instance). Would you still see the work of, say, Arthur Conan Doyle in the same way if you re-read it?

There’s a strong argument that timing has an effect on what we think of what we read. Do you see that with your own reading? Do you ever go back and re-read a novel at another time, just to see if your first impression was lasting? If you’re a writer, do you think about timing when you choose your themes, contexts and so on?

Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration. Now, may I strongly suggest that the next stop on your blog round be FictionFan’s excellent blog. There, you’ll find fine reviews, interesting observations, and real wit. And Mr. Darcy.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carl Hiaasen, Chris Grabenstein, Elizabeth Haynes, Gillian Flynn, Julia Crouch, Julie Hyzy, Margaret Yorke, Ngaio Marsh, S.J. Watson, Thomas Harris, Timothy Hallinan

My Dear, We All Must Stay Alive*

Maslow's HierarchyNo one psychological theory explains why people do what they do. People are too complex for one theory to account for everything, and all sorts of factors impact what we do. That said, though, there are some really interesting ways of looking at the choices humans make, and putting them into perspective.

One of those theories is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s theory was that some of our needs are more important than others, and that we will meet those basic, lower-level needs before trying to meet higher-level needs. In the world of education, for instance, it implies that students aren’t going to be able to concentrate on learning if they haven’t eaten or if they’re being abused. Students from stable, loving homes, where they don’t have to worry about physical safety or being unloved, will be better able to concentrate on higher-level needs like cognitive development.

We see this hierarchy all through crime fiction, too. And although it certainly doesn’t explain everything characters do, I think it adds an interesting perspective. And it can help readers understand why a character might behave in a certain way.

The most basic needs we have, according to Maslow, are our ‘survival’ needs, like food, water, and shelter. They have to be met first, if a person is to meet other needs. In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, for instance, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney works to clear the name of her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. When his partner, Nou, is killed, the police settle on Didi as the murderer. Later, he himself is killed in what police say was the tragic consequence of resisting arrest and threatening the officers who’d come to arrest him. Keeney doesn’t believe that explanation and goes in search of the truth. The truth about the murders has to do with the business of child trafficking and the sex trade, and Savage makes it clear that there are no easy answers to this problem. For many desperately poor rural families, this trade represents food in their stomachs and a place to live. Simply telling them how wrong it is to send their children to be trafficked isn’t going to feed them.

We also see this in one plot thread of Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. Two young girls, Preeti and Basanti, join India’s sex trade in exchange for money given to their families. The idea is that they’ll work in the trade for a few years, sending money back to their families, and then return to their villages. For those families, this represents a way to put food on the table, take care of sick children and so on. For the young girls, it’s even a sort of source of pride, since they are helping to feed their families. But things go horribly wrong when they are taken to Scotland and sold to some very dangerous people. When Basanti manages to escape the people holding her, she goes in search of Preeti, only to discover that her friend has disappeared and may be dead. So she asks for help from oceanographer Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill, who just may have the skills needed to find Preeti.

Timothy Hallinan addresses similar issues in his Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels. Rafferty is an ex-pat American who now lives in Bangkok with his wife, Rose and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Rose is a former bar girl who’s set up her own apartment-cleaning company; Miaow is a former street child. Both know all too well about being desperate for food and shelter. In fact, in The Queen of Patpong, we learn something about Rose’s personal history. At one point, there’s an interaction between her teacher, Teacher Suttikul, and her father. The teacher is trying to convince Rose’s father to let her stay in school, rather than leave school and get work:

‘‘You know, you have a very smart daughter.’
‘So what?’ her father says… ‘She’s a girl.’
‘There are lots of good jobs for girls these days. She’ll earn plenty of money if she stays in school.’
‘What good does that do anybody? If she makes any money, it’ll go to her husband’s parents, not us.’
… ‘She’ll always take care of you. And I know she can get a good job. Someday she – ’
‘Someday,’ her father says heavily, as though the words are in a foreign language. ‘Someday. My children need food now. The roof needs to be fixed before the next rain comes. We need money now.’’ 


That drive to meet the most important, basic needs leads those who have nothing to make choices that those of us with plenty can’t always understand.

Maslow believed that once those very basic needs are met, we move on to meeting our needs for safety and security. And we certainly see that in crime fiction! I’m sure I don’t have to list the many novels in which characters won’t talk to the police, for fear of what will happen if they do. And then there are characters who know about terrible crimes, even murder, but turn a blind eye. It’s not that they like the idea of murder, but they fear for their own safety and that of their families.

We see that need for safety come out in other ways, too. For example, Jassy Mackenzie’s Random Violence takes place in Johannesburg, where many people are concerned for their own physical safety. In that atmosphere, Superintendent David Patel of the Johannesburg Police investigates the murder of Annette Botha, whose death looks like a carjacking gone horribly wrong. But soon, little bits of evidence suggest that her murder might have been deliberate. Then, private investigator Dean Grobbelar is murdered. Then there’s a third murder. Now Patel has the task of linking these crimes to see who is responsible. In the meantime, PI Jade de Jong, the daughter of Patel’s former mentor, has returned to Johannesburg after a ten-year absence. Patel is glad for her help as the investigation gets both wider and deeper, but she has an agenda of her own. Throughout this novel, there’s a pervasive sense of fear, as ordinary people take extraordinary security measures:

‘Jade turned on all the lights and checked the cottage thoroughly. The front door was secure. The alarm was armed. The battery box that fed the electric fence was beeping quietly, its green light flashing.’

People hire personal bodyguards, live in tightly gated communities, and so on. There’s a real sense that everyone’s safety is at risk.

There’s also Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace, which introduces Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s dealing with the loss of her beloved husband Stefan, so although she’s functioning, she’s not exactly functional. Still, she’s making some progress. Then, she gets a letter that makes it clear that she’s being stalked. As if that’s not enough, someone seems to have gotten access to her private client information. Then, the body of one of those clients, Sara Matteus, is found in the water in Bergman’s property. There’s a suicide note that blames Bergman for the victim’s decision to kill herself. When the death is proved to be a murder, Berman is suspected, briefly, until it’s proven she is innocent. But having her name cleared isn’t enough to keep her safe. Bergman will have to find out who’s responsible for targeting her if she’s to stay alive. And it’s interesting to see how her focus changes from the higher-level need to succeed professionally and help her clients to the basic need to stay safe as the story goes on.

If Maslow was right (and I’ve not read any credible evidence that he wasn’t), then our needs are hierarchical. We have to satisfy our basic needs before we move on to higher-level needs like the need to be loved and to belong. And those needs drive quite a bit of what we do.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Claude Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Lovely Ladies.


Filed under Angela Savage, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Jassy Mackenzie, Mark Douglas-Home, Timothy Hallinan

No One Messes With My Girls*

Brothel OwnersThe sex trade can be very dangerous, especially for those who work independently. Brothels can be a safer and healthier alternative to going it alone, especially if they’re owned and run by skilled and caring owners. Brothel owners have a vested interested in making sure their employees are healthy and safe. And in places where prostitution is illegal, they’re very helpful in terms of keeping the employees out of trouble with the law. Some of them are very particular about clients, too, so that their employees are at less risk. For the client, brothels can offer a more comfortable atmosphere. And if the brothel owner is doing the job well, there’s less risk of STDs.

Of course, real and fictional brothels run the gamut from elegant, upmarket places to seedy, very dangerous places where the employees are treated horribly. Either way, brothel owners can make very interesting characters in crime novels and series. On the one hand, what they are doing is illegal in a lot of places. On the other, they can be very helpful sources of information, and the police find that it’s often better all round to work with them than to make life too difficult for them.

Ed McBain’s Steve Carella knows that. In Cop Hater, he and his team are looking for a suspect they believe might be responsible for killing two of his colleagues, Mike Reardon and David Foster. They’ve traced this suspect to a local brothel owned by Mama Luz. Carella and Mama Luz have a very amicable relationship. Here’s how she greets him when he and his rookie assistant visit her establishment:

“You come on a social call?’ she asked Carella, winking.
‘If I can’t have you, Mama Luz,’ Carella said, ‘I don’t want anybody.’’


She’s helpful in directing him to the room where the suspect is, too.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Nag, Hamish Macbeth has been having a difficult time lately. He’s been demoted from the rank of sergeant, and his engagement to Priscilla Haliburton-Smythe is now off. At loose ends and fed up with everything, Macbeth decides to take some time away. He stays at the Friendly House, a beachside inn. It’s not exactly the peaceful respite he’d hoped for, though. Many of the guests are at the very least annoying, and the innkeepers aren’t exactly the stuff of travel fantasy. Then, Bob Harris, who’s one of the residents, is murdered. Macbeth finds himself drawn into the investigation, and begins to trace Harris’ last days and weeks. That includes a follow-up on an incident in which he himself saw Harris leave a brothel. The brothel’s owner, Mrs. Simpson, is both candid and co-operative. It’s clear from their exchange that she’s used to being on what’s technically speaking the wrong side of the law, but at the same time working with the police. It’s also clear from this scene that she cares about the welfare of her employees.

So does Candace Curtis, whom we meet in Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District. In that novel, she hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson to find one of her employees, Mary Carmen Santamaria. The young woman’s gone missing, and Curtis is concerned that something might have happened to her. Jackson takes the case, and as she investigates, she learns quite a bit about the Toronto sex trade. She also gets to know her new client, and her client’s way of running her business. Curtis takes the well-being of her employees very seriously, so she’s quite particular about accepting clients. She insists, too, on ensuring her employees’ dignity and self-esteem. She’s also smart when it comes to business, and has done well for herself and the women who work for her.

In David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which takes place in 1970’s Perth, we meet Superintendent Frank Swann. He’s been away from Perth for a few years, but returns when he learns that a friend has been murdered. The victim is brothel owner Ruby Devine, whose body has been found in her car on a golf course. The official police explanation is that she was probably killed by her partner Jacky White. But the case is flimsy and Swann is sure that more is going on here than a case of domestic violence gone horribly wrong. He’s not going to get much help from his work colleagues, because he’s already a marked man, as the saying goes, for requesting a Royal Commission hearing regarding police corruption. The police he’s accusing are members of what’s known as ‘the purple circle,’ a group known for graft, corruption, and vicious brutality if they are crossed. The word on the street is that they are responsible for Ruby’s murder, so lots of people are afraid to speak up against them for fear of a similar reprisal. Swann perseveres, though, and we learn the truth about Ruby’s death. In the meantime, the Royal Commission hearing goes on, and there’s testimony from several witnesses. One of them, Pat Chesson, is, like the victim, a brothel owner. Here’s what she says about the relationship between the owners and the police before the ‘purple circle’ moved in:

‘When I first arrived to set up my business here, there was understandings between myself and the police. We kept our part of the bargain, they kept theirs. We made sure all our girls was clean and well behaved. We kept a quiet profile. You wouldn’t know, walking past one of my businesses, what it was. And anyone who went outside the rules was run out of town.’’

Among other things, this shows the role that brothel owners play in making sure their businesses fit into the community without causing the police a lot of trouble.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Purity of Vengeance, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck gets a visit from an old nemesis, Børge Bak. Bak is a former colleague who has since transferred, and Mørck is none too pleased to see him. This time, Bak has a request. His sister Esther, who owns a brothel, has been attacked with acid, and Bak thinks he has the right man in custody. He wants Mørck’s help in getting a confession. He’s also brought along another case: the 1987 disappearance of another brothel owner, Rita Nielson. Mørck’s secretary/researcher Rose Knudsen is sure that the Nielsen case was more or less passed over – ‘shelved’ – because of the woman’s profession, and at her insistence, Mørck looks into it. He and his team discover that this disappearance, and that of several others on the same weekend, all have to do with one woman, Nete Hermansen, and her desire for revenge, especially against a doctor who horribly abused his medical privileges.

We also see plenty of brothel owners – mamasans – in work like that of John Burdett and Timothy Hallinan. In Southeast Asia (although not in all of Asia), these are women (there are also papasans – the male equivalent) who manage bars that also provide prostitution services. Their roles aren’t identical to the roles played by Western-style brothel owners, but they bear some similarities.  Mamasans and papasans ensure that customers pay the ‘bar fine’ – the price for leaving with one of the bar’s employees. They also make sure that the bar runs smoothly, and, where necessary, they pay off the police and other authorities.

There are many cases of brothel owners who are vicious and predatory, both in fiction and in real life. But plenty of them are business people who make a living providing a service. And some of them care a lot about their employees, and want to make sure that they’re safe and that their clients have a good experience, too. They can also make very interesting characters in a crime story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carol Hall’s A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.


Filed under David Whish-Wilson, Ed McBain, Jill Edmondson, John Burdett, Jussi Adler-Olsen, M.C. Beaton, Timothy Hallinan