The Jim Thompson story is one the enduring mysteries in post World War II Thailand. The famed Thai Silk King and ex-OSS spy cut one of the most glamorous figures in the swinging decades of the 1950′ and 60’s. From the upper crust of the Atlantic Seaboard gentry, Thompson became wildly successful in his own right as he founded and developed the Thai Silk Company. Then one day, at the height of his success, he went for a simple stroll in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. James H. W. Thompson was never seen again.
The largest manhunt in Malaysian history turned up nothing. Jim Thompson had vanished into the thin crisp mountain air. He would never be heard from again.
September, 2005: A letter is received at the offices of the Siam Foundation. It is signed: James H. W. Thompson.
Sam Collins, an ex-Boston Police Detective turned university professor, is summoned from the halls of academia. His assignment is simple. Track down the missing Thai Silk King. Reluctantly, Collins accepts the challenge and heads down the treacherous path forged by the mysterious silk merchant.
Murder, Sex, Mayhem! They are Sam Collins’ constant companions as he cuts a swath through Southeast Asia in search of the silk baron. Deceit and treachery lurk in each closet of Jim Thompson’s past. Will Sam unlock the seal on another of Thailand’s great mysteries? Or will Thompson’s enemies lay them both to rest?
Expertly researched, T. Hunt Locke brings Jim Thompson to life as never before in this highly erotic historical thriller.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 to 80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A simple stroll through a museum was my inspiration. I have been living in Thailand for over a decade and the culture and traditions of this land are magnificent. Jim Thompson is part of that tradition. Many years ago I took a tour through the Jim Thompson Museum in Bangkok and an idea sprang into my head. However, this was too big a subject to pick up for my first novel. After completing my first novel in the Sam Collins Mystery Series, I felt confident enough to tackle this real life mystery.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Well, the main character, Sam Collins, had to be drawn as somebody you could meet in real life. Many expats residing in Thailand have left their country behind due to uncomfortable circumstances. This could range from unemployment, tragedy, a broken marriage, or simply a desire for adventure. Some of these factors help to form Sam’s character. In addition, I needed a character who could move easily in the halls of academia as well as handle himself in dangerous situations.
Sam, by one reviewer, has been called a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. I’ll live with that. Other characters are developed more organically. What I mean is they seem to take on a life of their own. My character Gemma from my first novel, The Ming Inheritance, is a perfect example. In Jim Thompson Is Alive! the Zanny/Casper character jumps off the page in a way I never envisioned.
The Jim Thompson story is truly the stuff of legend. Born into a wealthy Delaware family, Jim grew up in a world F. Scott Fitzgerald would write about in The Great Gatsby.
A graduate of Princeton University, Jim cut out a career as an architect in New York City. While much of America sank knee deep in the Great Depression, Jim Thompson barely noticed its effects. Yet, if he had been spared trial and tribulation, he was touched profoundly in other ways. A change in political philosophy saw him reject his family’s long held conservative beliefs and he became a vocal supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The imminent outbreak of World War II brought another great change in a life that up to that time had experienced little to no hardship. At the age of 37, when he well could have sat the war out, Jim Thompson enlisted in the US Army. At first he would see little action frustrated by his desk job for the Delaware National Guard. But fate had other plans for Jim.
In 1943 he was tabbed by William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan’s famed OSS. The Office of Strategic Services, known as ‘Oh So Social’ to some, was Thompson’s chance of a lifetime. He took full advantage of it. Thompson was a spies spy. Parachuting behind enemy lines, Thompson saw duty in Italy, France, and India. He was on a plane headed for Thailand, parachute strapped to his back, when word came the Japanese had surrendered.
Again, fate smiled on Jim. He landed in Thailand and his love affair with this exotic land sprung like wildflowers. It was not long after, with his building of the Thai Silk Company, that Jim Thompson gained worldwide renown as the Thai Silk King.
Still, despite his business success, many claim that Thompson never left the espionage game. Perhaps working with the offshoot of the OSS, the CIA, or perhaps using his connections to construct his own network of intelligence gatherers, it is widely believed Jim remained an active participant in the Indo-China conflict.
Increasingly he became dissatisfied with United States involvement in the war. So much so that in 1967 he gave a scathing critique of United States policy in a television interview.
Not long after, while vacationing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, Jim Thompson disappeared without a trace. One of the most extensive manhunts in Southeast Asian history turned up nothing.
Was it that Jim finally ran afoul of the powers that be in the United States Government? Or perhaps a business competitor felt the easiest way to get ahead was if the Thai Silk King was dead. Did a spurned lover set a trap or, as some have suggested, Jim Thompson take his own life.
Whatever the case, Jim Thompson, a true legend, walked into the mists of history leaving a set of questions that have yet to be answered.
Easter Sunday, 1967
He sat on his bed staring intently through the window. The undulating mountains of the Cameron Highlands, which seemed to go on endlessly and majestically to the world’s edge, were laid out before him. He wasn’t thinking of the unparalleled beauty that he absentmindedly gazed upon. Rather he was contemplating the rigors of starting over. Certainly he had made drastic changes in his life before, changes which made both family and friends question his sanity. But this was different. ‘And,’ he thought, with a mixture of gratitude and regret, ‘I’m not 33 anymore.’
This transformation was decidedly different. He wasn’t trading his conservative upbringing for radical politics nor was he trading his playboy garb for the soldier’s uniform. At sixty one years of age, he was to embark on his latest and most challenging endeavor. It would also be the last chapter in what most people would consider a rather amazing career. It would, however, be a chapter left unwritten. Today was the day to burn all bridges and completely walk away from his very existence.
He looked at his watch, which read 3 pm, clapped his hands and, with purpose, arose and walked towards the door. He stopped briefly at the night-table and surveyed the contents lying haphazardly on top. A half finished pack of Lucky Strikes nestled up against his engraved sterling lighter, two burnt stubs crumbled in a nearby ashtray. ‘Well, time to quit anyway,’ he reasoned. Juxtaposed beside those was his ‘jungle box.’ His small tin which contained the various medications his doctor had prescribed to deal with the myriad of ailments that increasingly had started to cause him discomfort. Where he was going those would not be necessary either. Exiting the room he turned for one final look, a mental snapshot of a life he once cherished.
Walking down the garden path, he paused to gaze at the cozy little cottage; a serene dwelling that had, in days gone by, given him so much contentment. Of course it wasn’t the cottage itself, but rather his dear friends inside, who had provided him with such comfort and joy. A knot in his stomach appeared. It accompanied the anguish in his heart with the knowledge of the pain and suffering he would deliver into his friend’s lives. But it could be no other way. Resolutely he continued down the well-manicured gravel path that would lead him, ultimately, to his destiny.
The trodden lane led onto a small dirt road. He had travelled this road several times in his frequent visits to the upper elevations of the Malay Peninsula. He felt an acute sense of guilt knowing that only now was he truly appreciating its rustic beauty. He paused by the Overseas Mission Fellowship and stopped to admire a meticulously ornate garden bed. Straight out of a British landscape design magazine he surmised with a mixture of admiration and disgust. He marveled at the highly considered design with its collection of rich colors. The social oppression from which they emanated made his stomach turn. His contempt rose.
Further along the road he observed a female Malay servant busily preparing Easter dinner for the Fellowship’s predominantly European and well-to-do congregation. He had in all probability walked by her on several occasions and, much like those who would enjoy her fine meal later that Easter afternoon, had never bothered to acknowledge her existence. Seemingly aware of his presence, she stopped her routine to look curiously out the window. A slight nod of the head, a hesitant smile, he then continued towards the main road. Now though his gait showed more assurance. A destiny beckoned.
The industrious and no doubt ill-compensated lady boosted his conviction and, in a way, restored his resolve that had been wavering over the past forty-eight hours. Yes, he was on the right path. Better to die in a struggle he believed in than live long and prosper in a world that now left him cold.
As planned, a solitary white sedan was waiting for him on the main road. He paused. The ground beneath his feet stared up resolutely. The wind pushed hard against him. It was as if he was crossing some forbidden barrier. He strode forward with an unshakeable sense of clarity.
A long lost friend emerged from the back seat. They looked at each other for an awkward moment before falling into a deep embrace. Greetings were exchanged and some tears shed. The man followed his exiled companion into the back seat closing the door and his past firmly behind him. The car sped stealthily away down the mountain. He was tempted to look back, to abandon the plan. But to do so meant to commit a form of suicide. He stared doggedly ahead.
Thomas happily resides in Thailand with his beautiful wife and precocious 5 year old daughter. He has set up his small business, a test preparation center (TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, CU-TEP), where he comes in contact with the best and brightest Thailand has to offer.
He has begun his 2nd career as an author of historical fiction and mystery novels of which The Ming Inheritance is the first offering in the Sam Collins Mystery Series.
Thom’s 2nd novel in the series has has been recently released. Jim Thompson Is Alive! dives into one of Southeast Asia’s enduring unsolved mysteries. As with The Ming Inheritance this novel will take you to several exotic Thai locales as well as places you may not be so familiar with. As always, you will learn about the Thailand of the present as well as the past.
In 2013, Thom will undertake a project set on the other side of the world. This series of novels is tentatively titled The Cape Cod Chronicles. As with the Sam Collins Mysteries this series will be a character study of a person trying to put their life back together. This life transformation will occur on and around the Cape and will introduce the reader to the locales and intrigue which has made the Cape such an alluring tourist destination.
So keep your eyes posted for future efforts from this independent author.
T. Hunt Locke
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Link To Buy Jim Thompson Is Alive! On Amazon