I fell in love with Asia from the moment I got off a plane in Jakarta when I was 22 years old.
It was raw, sexy and dangerous. I loved it.
Even after an aging freighter that I was traveling on sailed into a typhoon and was becalmed for a week somewhere in the South China Sea, I wasn’t put off.
With a backpack full of James Clavell novels I saw most of Indochina in those next few years, had seen the opium caravans for myself, talked to drug squad detectives and experienced the luxurious highs and seedy low-down lows of Asia for myself.
I scribbled notes in Wanchai bar rooms; while walking along the muddy banks of the Mekong in Laos; in village huts somewhere in northern Burma, where people had never seen a white face before, certainly not one as ugly as mine.
But then some triad detectives in Hong Kong also showed me how the Chinese gangs and the Mafia exploited the Vietnam war and its aftermath to turn opium into an international heroin trade that realized unimaginable profits.
The times I’m writing about are gone; there is no lawless Walled City in Hong Kong anymore, the British have left Asia and so have the Corsicans. This is an Indochina that has passed into history, even though it is within the living memory of many of those I interviewed.
In case you’re wondering OPIUM was published internationally by Hodder Headline in 1997. It was never given much publicity in the UK and not published at all in the US. (My Big6 publisher wanted to concentrate on my traditional ‘historical’ fiction like Cleopatra and Aztec)
They told me to forget about Baptiste Crocé and his deal with devil; to leave behind Detective John Keelan and his epic love story of redemption and healing.
Was she based on someone I once knew? Possibly.
So late last year I went back to the book and I breathed them back to life. They are real to me as any fictional characters ever can be (who were never that fictional to begin with.)
But happily the rest are still around, the diaspora of the RHKP, including the legendary TC.
It’s the first part of the story and I want you to read it and if you like it then perhaps you’ll be persuaded to follow Baptiste and John and Ruby on their splendid, romantic and horrifying journey.
It may not be Shogun but I just can’t stand by and let OPIUM die, not a book I love as much as this one. So I hope you’ll read it with some compassion for the riff raff and heroes within.