Following in the footsteps of Anna Jaquiery and Morel- Cambodia

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Excited to welcome Anna Jaquiery to Booktrail Towers today. She’s written two of our favourite reads – The Lying Down Room set in Paris and now her latest Death in the Rainy Season set in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Great locations and even better mystery and crime stories!

Chance would have it – one of our fellow booktrailers  has just popped over to follow in the footsteps of Morel! A few pics from his travels below….

But first – Welcome Anna. Great to see you today. Thank you so much for stopping by. You have inspired a booktrail jaunt over to Cambodia! That’s the power of a great read indeed! Can’t wait to start asking you all about one of our favourite novels this year!

(C) Keith the booktrailer
(C)  thebooktrail

You are of French -Malaysian descent. Morel is of two cultures – French and Cambodian. Did your background shape his character?

It was important to me that Morel be Eurasian – part French, part Cambodian. Like me, Morel also grew up in several countries. He only settled in Paris at the age of 17. I feel that he is nothing like me, but we do share that hybrid experience.

Which French food do you like the best and which Malaysian food is your favourite?

In both cases, it’s difficult to pick one particular dish. In France, generally speaking I like the quality of the products, and particularly the range of wines, breads and pastries you can find there. What I look forward to when I visit Malaysia is the hawker centres, where you can pick a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes from a variety of stalls. I like the convivial way people eat there, sharing dishes.

Can you recommend some writers from both countries that have inspired you?

Balzac and Stendhal are among my favourite classic French authors. I enjoy Fred Vargas’s crime novels, as well as Malaysian author Tash Aw’s books. But I have to say that the authors who’ve inspired me most are neither French nor Malaysian. Top on the list of influential authors are people like Graham Greene and Anton Chekhov. Other authors whose writing has inspired me include Vikram Seth, Colm Tóibín and Ian McEwan. There are many others.

(C) Keith the booktrailer Following in the footsteps of Morel!
(C) thebooktrailer   Following in the footsteps of Morel at one of the impressive temples

Can you recommend a few places we should visit in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap where Morel visits in Death in the Rainy Season?

In Siem Reap the temples are unforgettable – the Bayon is probably my favourite. I’d also recommend taking a river cruise. In Phnom Penh, my favourite thing is to walk around the city. There is so much life in the streets. I’d recommend a visit to the National Museum, a shopping expedition to the Russian market, and at the end of the day a drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, watching the sun set over the river.

Anna Jaquiery is your guide!

Siem Riep  – http://www.tourismcambodia.com/travelguides/provinces/siem-reap.htm

National Museum – http://www.cambodiamuseum.info/en_information_visitors.html 

Foreign Correspondants’ club – http://fcccambodia.com/

(C) Keith the booktrailer Death in the Rainy Season indeed
(C) thebooktrailer
Sailing in the Rainy Season …

What does it feel like to have experienced the monsoon season?

I like the monsoon season because the rain pours down, but it doesn’t last. It’s quite unlike the drizzle you experience in places like London and Brussels. I love the way the heavy rains make the colours brighter, and everything lush.

What fact about Cambodia (culture, language or food for example) would it surprise us to learn about?

I’m no expert on Cambodia as I’ve only visited a few times, and never for long. But one thing that did stand out for me during my last visit to Phnom Penh was how dynamic the city is. The population is young and several people I met spoke about their desire to look towards the future rather than remain fixated on the past. Cambodia faces many challenges, it’s true, and it is still coming to terms with its Khmer Rouge legacy – but there is also a great deal of energy, and yes, optimism too.

What’s next in store for Morel?

In the third book, which I’m currently working on, Morel has to investigate two deaths in a troubled suburb north of Paris. I wanted to write about immigration and what it means to belong. The book is told from multiple perspectives, most notably Morel’s and that of a young woman of Algerian descent.

The mix of both cultures in Death in the Rainy Season is very interesting – as it not only impacts on people’s opinions, reactions and the inner workings of the police within the novel. How do you manage to mix so much background and evoke the settings as well as write a really good mystery? 

Setting is very important to me when I’m developing a story. Maybe this is because I’ve moved around a great deal. Writing about the places I know may be my way of holding on to them in some way. I spend a fair amount of time on research, but I don’t really plan my books. I do start out with a clear sense of where I want to set the book, what the premise is and who the main characters will be (aside from Morel). I sometimes think I’d find some aspects of the process easier if I planned the books more, but then again I wouldn’t enjoy writing them as much if I knew everything that was going to happen before I started writing.

Anna Jaquiery we salute you. Fantastic writing and some of the most evocative books we’ve read. Love Morel and can’t wait to see him again soon. Thank you so much! You have inspired a man to travel thousands of miles whilst we feel we’ve been there via the picture painted by your words.

You can pop over and say hi to Anna here –  @AnnaJaquiery and via her page on the Pan Macmillian site – http://www.panmacmillan.com/News/April-2013/Anna-Jaquiery-to-Pan-Macmillan

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Death in the Rainy Season – Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Anna Jaquiery

death in rainy

Why a booktrail?

The second book in the Commandant Morel series. Where he was once in Paris, now he’s on holiday in Phnom Penh. Well that’s what he thinks…

Story in a nutshell

Commandant Morel might be on holiday but when he gets a call to say that a French national has been found dead in a hotel room in Phnom Penh, he boards a plane and heads over to find out what has happened. For the dead man is a relative of a prominent French government official and he was found in a hotel room under an assumed name. he worked as the head of a humanitarian organisation and may have been investigating the government land grabs in the area. So, a long list of potential murderers is already growing…. However the trail of bloody footprints left at the scene might lead to somewhere no-one really wants to go….

Place and setting

MAP-CAMBODIA

From the calm retreat and holiday in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional ways, to the bustling and murder scene and underbelly of Phnom Penh.

Serge Morel is on holiday here. He prefers Ta Prohm over Angkor Wat  - http://www.tourismcambodia.com Angkor Wat  temple - http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668 The largest complex and the most well-known in the area  Foreign Correspondents’ Club  -http://fcccambodia.com/ Have a drink here like they do in the book and ‘walk towards the lights along Sisowath Quay, away from the darkness The labyrinthine Russian market or Tuol Tom Poung Market So called as the large Russian expat population used to shop here apparently The Independence Monument More had had trouble finding the place. But he remember it was close to the Independence Monument
Serge Morel is on holiday here. He prefers Ta Prohm over Angkor Wat – two temples in the Siem Riep area http://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/ta-prohm.htm
Angkor Wat temple – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668
The largest complex and the most well-known in the area
Foreign Correspondents’ Clubhttp://fcccambodia.com/
Have a drink here like they do in the book and ‘walk towards the lights along Sisowath Quay, away from the darkness
The labyrinthine Russian market or Tuol Tom Poung Market
So called as the large Russian expat population used to shop here apparently
The Independence Monument
“Morel had had trouble finding the place. But he remembered it was close to the Independence Monument”

Maybe the setting of Phnom Penh and the rain and the humidity was the reason we wanted to read this, but the crime story and mystery soon took over and threw us into the dark murky waters and alleyways and underbelly of the country. It is monsoon season – the rainy season of the title – so the country is being deluged, homes destroyed and the Mekong River turning into a great flood.

Morel moves from Siem Reap to solve the crime in the city , a murder of a French national, the nephew of a Minister no less, with political implications for all. Cultural differences are important as although Morel is half Khmer  himself, in Phnom Penh  he is “ .. a tourist, a passing observer, being asked to help solve a murder in a country that remained a mystery to him”.

France meets Cambodia as the two police forces have to work together. Police Chief Sarit is a mystery and he has very different ways of working and thinking than the French. The very different approaches and facilities they have to solve the crime are fascinating as they are hard to accept.

As far as he was concerned this was a straightforward business. It was personal – a settling of accounts between Harang – Westerners.

The sights and sounds of the city buzz vividly in the background as the investigation takes place. As he wanders into the deluge of the city and the underbelly of its darkest corners (the victim was working for an NGO which campaigned in some vital yet controversial areas in the country), Morel and Sarit form a lasting relationship full of frustrations yet also respect despite their obvious differences and the nature of the investigation

Against a backdrop of heavy rains, monsoon downpours, the sights, alley ways, and tuk tuk rides this is a crime which unravels like a Russian doll – one layer pealed back reveals another part of the victim’s life and the role of the NGO but each layer is an issue in itself and reveals more about the country and police and political workings of Phnom Penh, and France.

Bookish musings

I just love the way Anna Jaquiery not only throws you into a thrilling and complex mystery but does it with such panache and vividly evoked settings and cultural nuances. If you though the Lying Down Room was good (which it certainly was) this is going to be another fantastic literary treat to get your teeth into.

The change of location – from the serene temples to the bustling chaos of Phomn Penh brought the mystery of the crime to the fore as the city takes over and swamps Morel in a troubling and complex investigation. Cambodia society and politics are characters in their own right but now Jaquiery weaves this in and out of the narrative is fascinating to see – never does it overtake the plot but enhances it at every step of the way.

This really is a guide to the country in so many ways, an insight into its people and workings. Cambodia is a fascinating place here and its spiritual core and belief system also help to form the bigger picture.

And I have to mention the intriguing character of Morel himself – mesmerising and endlessly fascinating. The developing relationship and understanding between himself and his Cambodian colleague Sarit was intriguing and Sarit’s change from a rather secret man to a more open one as he and Morel investigate the case further. The role and he behind the scenes look into a fictional NGO also provided another level of interest to an already meaty plot

Roll on book three – where will Morel go to and get involved with next? Can. Not. Wait.