FOR OUR FIRST Spanking Pulp interview we caught up with Thailand Private Detective Warren Olson. Olson shot to international fame after releasing Confessions of a Thailand Private Eye with bestselling international thriller writer Stephen Leather. Copies flew from the shelves and Olson went on to publish Thai Private Eye in 2008. Since then Olson has been hard at work on the Kenny Jones detective series in which he digs into his real life case-files to bring us the well crafted thrillers Chasing the Golden Dragon and The Red Room both published with SPP. Third to be released Trade Me – The Bamboo Ransom is a great kidnap and ransom romp set in Thailand, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Singapore. He has also completed his third book of memoirs The Private Detective and a further title The Khymer Legacy is in the pipeline. We managed to grab some of Warren’s precious time to talk about his books and his life and times as a Thai Private Investigator.
SPP: People must ask you this a lot. But was the most bizarre case you ever worked on in Thailand? By bizarre I’m thinking black magic or superstitions or just plain weird..
WO: I think in some ways guys bizarre almost becomes the norm in Thailand. Certainly working as a P.I. you tend to become very cynical and get used to the fact that things are more often than not, not as they seem. Taking a client’s tale or information as gospel often proves a mistake, so its best to doubt everyone until you prove things one way or the other for yourself.
As to ‘black magic’ – superstitions, of course, Thailand abounds in those. Rather than having cases directly involved with black magic, just having a general knowledge of many such Thai idiosyncrasies often came in handy. I noted a number of, often Burmese ‘working’ girls, who had a special tattoo on their wrist. This was firmly believed to make them attractive and ultimately indispensable to a man; and I did investigations (usually form Asian Men ) – who accepted this and said they would continue to sponsor the girl, even though I may have uncovered infidelities because she had the tattoo/black magic that meant they couldn’t break away from her!
I once broke a case simply because the Thai girl told her infatuated US sponsor on the day in question when he couldn’t contact her as she was at the hairdressers. That day was a Wednesday – Thai superstition is that you never cut your hair on a Wednesday, and in fact it is the day many hair salons close.
Of course numerous Thai girls when off with sponsor #2 told the other that they had gone to spend some time in a temple. Strangely none of those I saw ever re-appeared in public a week or two later with shaved heads!
Dreams too play an integral part of Thai culture. Of course much of the superstitions and such I learnt came about when I was based in Surin and this came from lesser educated Thais and Cambodians. To dream about teeth is not good – and can signify a death in the family. Not being one to dream often, or to remember my usual mundane dreams, I did on one occasion wake up clearly remembering I had dreamed about teeth/tooth problems. That day, just ot of interest I made a rare call back to New Zealand, and found a beloved old Aunt had passed away over night …. so go figure!
Suffice to say after that I didn’t totally discredit any Thai superstitions and to this day will never leave chopsticks standing up in rice (looking like joss-sticks and very bad luck) so in true Thai fashion I tell my daughter not to leave scattered grains of uneaten rice on a plate as it means you will get a pock-marked face!
Most Thai will visit a local temple on their birthday so I have used that also to track down a hard to locate suspect.
On the birthday theme – being untruthful as to ones age is of course a common trait, particularly among Thai bar girls. I would simply get them into a discussion about Chinese star signs. While practically all would claim to be younger than they really were – Almost all of them would give you the correct sign they were born under, as that too is a big part of Asian culture. Hence knowing the 12 Chinese signs and relative years, meant I would get a more accurate idea of the girls age.
SPP: Snakes and diamonds are important in dreams, right? A snake means a lover and a diamond or gold means a child. So tell your Thai wife you had a dream about a snake and a diamond and be prepared for a swift amputation! Warren, how did the first book come about. It sold, and continues to sell very well. What was the process like? How did the offer to write down your experiences arise?
WO: The Snake and diamond things may vary; perhaps more of my superstition info comes from Surin and Khmen influence where I was the only farang amongst 500 odd Thai and Cambodians. It does seem there are rather more examples of wealth and good luck than bad. The Royals in a dream of course meaning wealth is on the way! I regularly had the wife wake up in a dirty mood – because she had dreamed I was with someone else – which of course was my fault! However as we have been (amicably) separated for 10 years now I don’t have those worries anymore!
I was having a drink with Dean Barrett in the old soi washington Silver Dollar bar. It was the launch of Skytrain to Murder I think, for which I had given him some P.I. info/background, when Stephen Leather joined us and I mentioned I was looking at returning to NZ for my then 1 yr old’s well-being. Stephen said he would like to write my memoirs and Dean likewise said he would do it if Stephen was too busy. I started forming some notes, and put some case outlines together and once I was back in NZ sent them to Stephen who got onto it immediately and we signed a 50/50 contract. He added the colour and changed nationalities and descriptions of those involved, and did make it a very entertaining read, An anomaly I noticed in the notes was that every bar girl was a scorpion tattooed liar and I was perpetually with drink in hand, which in truth was not actually the case. I understand Stephen had a much different outlook to the bar scene than me, as he portrayed excellently in what I think is one of the best books of that type Private Dancer, based to some degree on his own experiences. There was a gulf in outlook as he stayed in five star residences wheras I lived, worked, and for the most part spoke as a middle-class Thai. For the most part the bar girl’s were my mates – especially those from Buriram/Surin/Si Saket who were usually of khmen heritage and found I was one of the few farangs they could converse with, or whom they couldn’t hide their private conversations from. It was due to this that I wrote the follow-up, Thai Private Eye, which was more factual and how things actually were.
Confessions of course did get a boost with Stephens name on it; although initially it was released only in my name. He was responsible for getting it translated into the many languages it is now in. It still sells a couple of thousand copies a year which is amazing really – But hopefully The Private detective which tells the actual cases better, can do likewise and endures as long. This is an updated version of my most memorable cases with some new ones included. However, apart from the entertainment value the idea is to outline some of the scams, pitfalls, and Thai culture for a new generation of visitors to the land of smiles. My wish is that of that doyan of of Thai nightlife Bernard Trink who remarked about Confessions that it too becomes ‘a must read for first time travellers to Thailand.’
SPP: Was wondering Warren, about how the internet, smartphones, dating sites and facebook etc has changed the private eye game in Thailand. Part of me thinks it would mean it would be easier to locate people and find out what they are doing and the other part thinks social media could be used as a smokescreen with users having many accounts and indentites. Any thoughts on that and social media in general?
WO: Good question. While of course social media sites are a boon for Thai/Asian girls seeking western sponsors they do also give the hapless/love-struck males an avenue for some simple investigations of their own. “Open source” information as it is termed these days, can divulge a plethora of information, provided of course you have the right (and only) name. Just why your beloved has 300 + face-book friends all of whom are male is a telling question. Probably like yourself, I still get 3 or 4 friend request a week from stunning young Thai girls, few of whom I suspect are interested in my literary skills. I do think therefore things are more difficult for a P.I. these days, certainly in respect of attracting clients who are just dipping a toe in the water so to speak and want some basic background knowledge of a girl they are interested in. GPS tracking is a big plus. Sending a message allegedly from the rice field that indicates the sender is in downtown Phuket is hard to explain! An early tool I used but one I suspect is in wide-spread use nowadays is flexi-spy http://www.flexispy.com/ This can do what it would take a P.I. weeks to accomplish, if not more. However it does require the phone to be programmed but that’s just a matter of buying the partner a new mobile and doctoring it before you pass it over. I would think then for basic (and they were the bread and butter jobs) info where just an initial idea of how loyal/honest a Thai girlfriend was, there are easier/cheaper options than hiring a P.I. Also privacy laws have tightened to some extent, in Thailand AMLO has some impact, and it’s not so easy to have someone’s bank statement printed out, but you can always pay a friendly teller to take a screen snapshot!
SPP: Out of all your books I’m a big fan of The Red Room. It seems too good to be a true story, but is I understand based on a real case. Can you tell the readers a little bit more about the case and book and if there’s some artistic license thrown in there.
WO: I do perhaps need to be a little careful here James. I may return to Thailand sometime and rest assured events and people portrayed in the RED ROOM are very much based on fact, so the book will upset some people.
Both my client and myself received death threats at the time from a rouge agent when he found that apart from his surveillance of the girls emails, I had been checking on his! The only part of the book that wavers from fact, is the ride by shooting and the bombing, however the ride by shooting was in fact based on an actual event that happened to a Western forensic accountant that I looked into, while the bomb threat to Patpong and/or Nana Plaza was very real at the time, and in event such an attack was carried out soon after in Bali. My client (who was not from Russian) was infatuated with the young Law student and regardless of cost and for a time personal safety, desperate to find out why she was suddenly incommunicado. He had in fact paid a substantial retainer to a Thai investigation agency, but they had been unable to make any progress, so then he contacted me. The girls home town was not Chiang Mai, but to the south. Much more than that I can’t add as even after this time I still need to protect my clients and those involved.
SPP: Thanks for your time, Warren. We wish you every success with the new titles!