Today’s fascinating guest post is from thriller writer Michael E. Rose, author of the Frank Delaney series—The Mazovia Legacy, The Burma Effect and The Tsunami File–now being published by Momentum Books. Michael is the former Chief of Communications for Interpol and a former journalist, broadcaster and foreign correspondent. He draws on his years of experience in exotic locations around the world for his stories and characters. He’s recently back from a trip to Myanmar, where he set one of his books, and he reflects on the changes there.
When I sat down to write The Burma Effect some years ago, the place the military junta had decided would be called Myanmar, not Burma (just because they felt like it) was truly in a bad way. The generals held literally everything in an iron grip: opposition activists suffered appalling conditions in Insein Prison (great name for a bad prison); media censorship was absolute, the economy was in ruins, foreign journalists were not welcome, and Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
A great place to set a spy thriller, yes? And so it was. I had a great time researching and writing “The Burma Effect” and readers seemed to like it. So I was pleased and my agent was pleased and my publisher at the time was pleased. All was right with the world – except that conditions in Burma were still terrible and nobody was getting out of jail.
Now, over the past few years, there has been a breathtaking series of changes in Burma; sorry, “Myanmar”. I decided (once a journalist, always a journalist) that I would go up and see what was happening. Were the generals serious about moving toward democracy? Would they really be able to tolerate Aung San Suu Kyi now that she was a free woman again? Could people say what they liked there, at long last? Could a thriller writer find a good story there anymore?
Well, the answers are not simple. Yes, things are opening up. Tourists are pouring through Rangoon (sorry, Yangon) airport. Yes, journalists are allowed in and they can ask some tough questions and not get thrown out of the country like the bad old days. There’s a lot of new investment. You can even use credit cards now; some places, sometimes, and only if the power is on and there is a solid Internet connection.
But you still get a strong sense that just behind the new façade that is being constructed, there are very, very deep shadows.
The generals have rigged the new Constitution so they have 25 percent of members of Parliament, and it takes a vote of more than 75 percent to make any meaningful constitutional changes. Aung San Suu Kyi, clearly the most popular person in the country, bar none, is still forbidden from running for president because she has a couple of children who were born overseas. The generals, or their cronies, own just about all of the truly lucrative enterprises: mining, logging, airlines, hotels, key industrials.
They are also said to still have strong lines into the drug trade and other very shady goings-on. (Am I allowed to say that, about the new Myanmar? We’ll have to see.)
So, people on the streets of shabby, wonderful Yangon, or in a small market somewhere up-country in Shan state, or on a boat on the river near Mandalay, will tell you they are optimistic about the future. Elections are coming this year, there are more jobs around, the lights stay on longer than they used to, and fewer dissidents are in jail.
But people may still talk about such things with an almost imperceptible glance over their shoulder, to see who is listening. They may still choose carefully who they want to have a real conversation with. They aren’t going to rock the boat too much, for a while longer. They clearly know that things are still going to be rough, on a lot of levels, for quite a few years yet.
But there is hope, and that was in very short supply in the Burma where I put my series main character Frank Delaney a few years back. And there is hope there for thriller writers, because even the new Myanmar has a dark side and no-go areas and spies and guns and drugs and political chicanery.
A great place to set a spy thriller, yes?
Michael’s website: http://michaelrosemedia.com/
About the Frank Delaney thrillers by Michael E.Rose, all now available through Momentum:
The Mazovia Legacy
The snow in a Montreal winter covers a multitude of sins …
In the icy depths of a Quebec winter, a harmless old Polish man dies in mysterious circumstances. His suspicious niece draws in Montreal investigative journalist, Frank Delaney, to help her find the truth behind the death, a story the authorities seem to want covered up.
The search for answers sweeps them into a dangerous web involving Canadian, Polish and Vatican agents who will use any means, even murder, to stop them. The catalyst for this international intrigue is the true story of Polish national art treasures secretly shipped to Canada to be hidden from the Nazis in the opening days of World War Two. This classic thriller combines fascinating history, deft storytelling and psychological depth.
The Mazovia Legacy was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel, 2004.
The Burma Effect
Sometimes an obsession can become a death wish …
In the second Frank Delaney thriller, the Montreal-based investigative journalist and sometime spy is assigned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to locate one of their agents gone missing in Bangkok.
The search for Nathan Kellner, a bohemian bon vivant with a taste for young women and a variety of illicit substances, brings Delaney first to London, then to Thailand and Burma, where evidence points to an elaborate plot to destabilize the Burmese military regime. Untangling that plot thrusts Delaney directly into the line of fire between the generals at the head of Burma’s all-powerful junta and those who would use any means to see them overthrown.
The Tsunami File
Not every victim is found to be innocent …
Frank Delaney, investigative journalist and sometime spy, is on assignment in Phuket, Thailand, in the aftermath of the tsunami that killed thousands of people, foreigners and locals alike. Disaster victim identification teams from police forces across the globe have descended on this idyllic holiday location to carry out their gruesome work.
Delaney discovers that, against all logic, someone is trying to prevent identification of one of the bodies lying in makeshift beachside morgues. His search for the reason follows a trail through Thailand’s seedy child sex trade to an elaborate cover-up in Germany and France, where those with everything to lose use increasingly desperate measures to stop him dead.
The Tsunami File was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel, 2008.