‘I don't know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close. She had the longest hair I'd ever seen, jet black and almost down to her waist. She had soft brown eyes that made my heart melt, long legs that just wouldn't quit and a figure to die for. She was naked except for a pair of black leather ankle boots with small chrome chains on the side. I think it was the boots that did it for me.’
Thailand 1996. The Year Of The Rat. Pete, a young travel writer, wanders into a Bangkok go-go bar and meets the love of his life. Joy is the girl of his dreams: young, stunningly pretty, and one of the Zombie Bar’s top-earning pole dancers. What follows is a roller-coaster ride of sex, drugs and deception, as Pete discovers that his very own private dancer is not all that she claims to be. And that far from being the girl of his dreams, Joy is his own personal nightmare.
For many years Private Dancer was only available as a free download through my website. It became something of a cult classic and over the last five years was downloaded sixty thousand times from more than forty countries. I gleaned much of the information for the book sitting in a bar called Jool’s in Sukhumvit Soi 4, just down the road from Bangkok’s infamous Nana Plaza red light area. The owner, Big Dave, knows pretty much everything there is to know about Thailand, and he’s the basis for the Big Ron character in the book.
Hodder and Stoughton didn’t want to publish Private Dancer as it is so different from my regular thrillers, so I decided to publish the book myself in Thailand, through my own publishing company, Three Elephants. (Three Elephants is an anagram of Stephen Leather!) I’ve also published Private Dancer on Kindle.
The striking cover photograph, of a naked girl holding a cut-throat razor behind her back, was taken in Anglewitch Bar in Nana Plaza and features one of the bar’s top showgirls. It took us ages to find the right girl. When I originally wrote the book, the fashion was for the girls to grow their hair long. But these days they trend to cut it short, make it curly, or dye it red or blonde. I sat with my friend Andrew Yates for hours outside Nana Plaza in search of the right girl, but it seemed as if the only ones with long straight hair were the ladyboys! My pal Paul Owen took the photograph. I borrowed the cut-throat razor from my barber and it took us almost an hour to get the shot right. I’m really pleased with the result - think it’s one of my best covers.
The book got great reviews from Bernard Trink at the Bangkok Post and the Pattaya Mail, both taking the view that Private Dancer should be required reading for all visitors to the Land of Smiles. Forewarned is forearmed! I think it works so well because it gives the story from so many viewpoints, including several Thai characters. Most books about the Thai bar scene only give the Westerners point of view.
Private Dancer is available at all good book shops throughout Thailand, especially Bookazine and Asia Books outlets, and is also on sale at the airport.
In 2005, Phil Tatham, who runs Monsoon Books in Singapore, wanted to add the book to his growing stable of publications, and I agreed to let him have publication rights for Singapore and Malaysia. You can also buy it on line through his website, www.monsoonbooks.com.sg.