A dark and exotic literary war thriller.
“The Paper Crane boasts an intriguing plot. Its opening chapter drew me straight into a fascinating story.” Crooked Cat Publishing, Flash500 Novel Opening and Synopsis Competition. Awarded joint runner-up in 2016.
A decade after her husband Edward’s death, veteran war correspondent Bel McQueen begins to erase a past that she can no longer live with. In self-imposed exile at Lucky Guest House in Bangkok, Bel unearths ten papers and a journal from 2006, the year of her husband’s death. These tell the true story of her life, a story which she must now rewrite in her memoir On War.
Bel is drawn into covering the capital’s deadly protests, and meets restless war photographer Stefan Koops. Together, they report from an increasingly dangerous frontline: bombs, snipers, a ruthless army and a merciless, radical youth faction see journalists killed or disappeared with terrifying regularity.
As the danger in Bangkok grows closer and a coup d’etat threatens, Bel’s greatest fear becomes a reality. Someone knows the truth about her life, someone with almost as much to lose as she has. How far will Bel go to protect her past?
Spanning four decades, The Paper Crane is an intimate study of love, war, sex, obsession and death in Thailand. It is an unflinching portrait of the ravages of betrayal on an unstable older female protagonist, and her wait for revenge.
Extract from The Paper Crane
“I don’t know how you sleep at night. Just look at what you’ve become,” he had said to her when he was dying.
Such secrets had been buried with him a decade before, but now they must be faced. Bel places a small pile of papers and her journal from 2006 beside her on the bed. They are her only witnesses to the truth. She lifts her first letter from Bangkok home to her mother, in 1975, a clipping of her first Bangkok Post column, a tattered postcard with a blue-green painted bird, the Halcyon Chloris, and her 1976 Pulitzer nominated Time feature. She will leave the rest, including her late husband Edward’s death certificate and his shattering testament, until later.
Bel lingers over the journal, brushing the cover and parting its pages, glimpsing the horrors that it conceals. She closes it with a snap. She secretes it with the papers back in her old attaché case when something inside scratches her fingertip. It is a knot of white paper, fine and crumpled. It sits in her palm, unfolding and reforming before her eyes. It shifts and turns, fluttering its wings, breathing back to life.
It is Edward’s thousandth origami crane.
Bel carries the letter to the balcony of her room in Lucky Guest House and opens her laptop on the table before beginning to read. She tightens her kimono around her and touches the metal back of the seat, in Bangkok’s afternoon shade it is just cool enough to sit down. She pauses for a moment to listen, assessing the proximity of a renewed volley of gunfire; it comes from inside the red-zone near Lumphini Park, a stronghold of the red-shirts, Thailand’s rural, working poor. It was stormed by the Royal Thai Army a couple of hours previously, fourteen have died so far today. Bangkok’s ongoing battle for democracy is merciless and has seen the death toll rising daily on both sides. Bel checks Twitter for verification: the violence is close but as yet of no immediate concern. Today, the past is of greater threat.
It must be rewritten.
Mrs Rosamunde Cunningham,
7 Chiltern Mews,
Maida Vale, London W9
Bangkok, 14th February 1975
A quick dispatch following Teddy’s call from work – no phone installed in the flats, can you believe! But we have the phone in Teddy’s office should you need to reach me, otherwise, at the moment it’s down to letters, I’m afraid! How quaint!
We’re still struggling with the heat – especially at night, I’m exhausted! Teddy is (as predicted) busy with work, so muggins is running around trying to make the place habitable. It isn’t up to scratch at all. Not even an antiquated twin tub.
On the plus side, there are other Westerners here in the flats, all ex-pat couples. They seem like a nice enough bunch so far, so hopefully we can rev up the old social circuit.
So, not much time to scout around for work yet, have been sniffing out some leads – the Bangkok Post looks promising, and they are probably crying out for a Fleet Street hack with my track record to knock them into shape!
At the moment, however, I seem to spend most of my days unable to make myself understood or understand, lost and struggling in and out of taxis, and fighting off the blasted mossies. I haven’t even attempted the ancient buses or river ferries – you would have to see them to believe them! But as I say to Teddy, it’s chaotic and exotic – but I think I will love it here. I’m sure we will be happy, our two years will fly past!
So, must sign off – more domestic duties call (don’t laugh!), will send more Tales from the Orient soon with news of work etc. Will try to enclose some photos too.
Bel holds the letter for a long time before carefully folding the paper and laying it aside, her throat aching. She fingers the silver chain around her neck and feels the pull of the past, of memories of life and of peace, and of who she was before her crimes of war.
She is distracted by a group of young Thais below her in the soi, laughing as they walk to Thanon Rama 1 at the top, a main city artery. They are drenched in a playful Songkran water-fight, emptying their arsenal of water-filled buckets, balloons and day-glo plastic machine guns upon each other. The water catches the sunlight as it arcs and Bel smiles at the familiar scene. As they pass by, Poon, Lucky’s receptionist, appears walking up from the canal at the bottom, Khlong Saen Saep. She crouches beneath Bel’s balcony to stroke Lucky’s stray cat, a black tom called Sooty, talking to him in Thai. Bel leans over and waves, but is unseen. Poon continues into the guest house, Sooty stretches and claws the trunk of the potted palm.
The day’s light begins to fade, and the edges of the war soften. Bel sees the bare, paler skin on her left ring finger. Thirty-two years of marriage leaves traces which are impossible to erase. She twists her wedding bands on over her knuckle, they glint like knives. Long-held secrets are safest hidden in plain sight, after all.
She begins to write.