Harlan Wolff left London and arrived in Bangkok in 1977 shortly after a coup but in time for martial law and a curfew. So began his long relationship with Thailand, complete with its economic roller coaster and curious clandestine occasional democracy.
Money wasn’t a problem because he rarely had any to worry about. A legal visa was a luxury and at one time he was seven years overstayed and therefore an illegal alien. Possibly the most wanted illegal alien in Thailand as there were very few foreigners in those days and even fewer like him. Harlan was never caught and rectified the situation in his late twenties, he has been a legal alien since.
Having turned survival into an art form and becoming fluent in streetwise and the Thai language his situation gradually improved into a harum-scarum existence fueled by alcohol and accompanied by rogues. The supporting cast included foreign businessmen and criminals, alcoholics, local gangsters, imported gangsters, gamblers, whores, politicians, and policemen. The salt of the earth to an aspiring writer.
Harlan Wolff’s maternal grandfather was the well known Swedish war correspondent and writer ‘Sid Roland Rommerud’. He was best known as a prolific writer of children’s detective books under the pseudonym ‘Sivar Ahlrud’. Harlan claimed from early childhood that he too would be a writer and the search for the required life experiences was the driving force behind his decision to travel to Thailand at such a young age.
By the 1990s Harlan had become the person foreigners went to when they had problems and so began his life as a private detective and troubleshooter. In the last twenty years he has successfully concluded such cases as theft, industrial espionage, extortion, kidnapping, and murder, in Thailand and around the world. There can be no further details as all work was conducted in strictest confidence. However; Harlan has agreed to write an autobiography after his 60th birthday, “As long as I’m still around,” he says, “and with the understanding that some of the names will be changed to protect the innocent and the guilty alike.” In the meantime, we are told by some of Thailand’s old hands, the life of his fictional character ‘Carl Engel’ is not far removed from the author’s own experiences.
The private investigation business was successful enough to provide Harlan with a life of five-star hotels, fast cars, slow lunches and beautiful women. He took to the high life like a duck to water and although he found the low life an interesting place to have visited, he says he is glad he didn’t have to stay there forever. Harlan recently promised his third wife that he would give up the fast cars and naughty women and settle down. So far so good, we hear. Harlan retains a fondness for single malts and Cuban cigars and remains an avid collector of leather-bound books and classical music on vinyl.
Harlan Wolff finally began writing after his 50th birthday claiming he had at last acquired sufficient ammunition. Should everything go as planned he hopes to spend the rest of his life writing and living a quieter and more sensible existence with his wife and three children in the Thailand he has grown to love.
Where to find Harlan Wolff online
Where to buy in print
Author interview at Movers & Shakers Bangkok
By Harlan Wolff
Published: February 14, 2013.
The author has been a Bangkok Private Detective and knows the streets. His creation Carl Engel delivers authenticity and takes the reader into the Thailand that tourists don't see.
"Bangkok Rules! So does Harlan Wolff. If there's a better thriller set in Bangkok I've yet to read it." - Stephen Leather - author of Thailand's most talked about novel 'Private Dancer".
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