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"SETTING WAS MY POINT OF DEPARTURE": BLOOD RUBIE'S MAILAN DOQUANG

Blood Rubie is a debut thriller by Mailan Doquang that sparkles with different facets like the items it's heroine Rune Sarasin steals. When she lifts the rubies off smuggler Lemaire, he captures her partner and boyfriend and demands the lost jewels or ones of equal value. The plot takes us through the many aspects of the illegal jewel trade where the stones have a higher value than human life. Mailan was kind enough to take some questions about the book and the backdrop it takes place in.


SCOTT MONTGOMERY: What came first, the idea of an illegal jewel world or the Bangkok setting it starts in?


MAILAN DOQUANG: Setting was my point of departure. I’m an art and architectural historian by training, so I’m used to prioritizing place in my work. As someone who’s new to writing fiction, one of the things that was interesting to me was the cascading effect setting had on other aspects of the book. For example, my initial instinct had been to build on my professional experience and write a story about an art heist, but I realized early on that gems were a more logical choice. Thailand is the third largest exporter of colored gemstones in the world. In the last year alone, the country’s exports of gems and gold reached nearly $9 billion. Writing a heist novel set in Bangkok and not making it about gems seemed like a missed opportunity.


S.M.: What did you want to convey about that world?


M.D.: Crime is an inescapable part of urban life, but it manifests itself in particular ways in Bangkok. Gems from all over the world are processed and sold in the city, including some from conflict zones, like Myanmar. Bangkok is also notorious for its sprawling slum near the city center and for its human trafficking problem. I wanted to write a story that unpacked these issues, while also creating a nuanced portrait of the city, which is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.


S.M.: Lemaire is a wonderful villain. How did you go about constructing him?


I find it helpful to start with the tangible when I’m creating characters, so I drew on real people for inspiration, as well as on literary villains. Lemaire’s physical appearance and mannerisms are a composite of public figures and people I’ve encountered. I didn’t have to look hard for models of ruthlessness. Books are full of those. So is global politics, for that matter.


S.M.: The climactic heist reminded me of something Hitchcock or De Palma would do in their movies as far as building tension. How did you approach it?


D.M.: I’m a visual thinker. I approach each scene as a series of dynamic images, which really helps with pacing. The climactic heist starts slowly with the protagonist, Rune Sarasin, observing other characters from the sidelines. Things escalate the moment she inserts herself into the situation, and then all hell breaks loose. Few filmmakers rival Hitchcock and De Palma at building suspense shot by shot. They’re a huge inspiration.


S.M.: Since this was your first book, did you draw from any influences?


D.M.: I’m a longtime fan of Arsène Lupin, Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief and master of disguise. Like Lupin, Rune steals from the rich and uses her wits to get out of sticky situations. Lupin is a friend to the poor, though. By contrast, Rune prefers to keep the proceeds of her heists!


S.M.: You have a background in art and architecture in medieval France. Do you plan to use that knowledge for a fiction project down the road?


D.M.: I’m not driven to write historical fiction, but I’d love to write a book set in Carcassonne, an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town in southern France. It’s the kind of place where your footsteps echo. The winding alleys and soaring towers also make it a great place to hide.

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