Saturday, 7 July 2018

Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery by William Warren

Hardback:  Jim Thompson first arrived in Bangkok in 1945 as a major in the United States Army, and immediately fell in love with the city's remaining vestiges of old-world charm and character.  It was during this short stay that the startling colour combinations and lustrous texture of woven silk captured his imagination.  Soon after his post-war discharge from the army, Thompson returned to Bangkok as a civilian, and in late 1948, he and George Barrie founded the Thai Silk Company Ltd.

Thompson made annual sales trips to New York, taking with him large quantities of silk to distribute among a host of prominent celebrities, to whom he was connected through a series of fortunate introductions.  As interest in the handwoven fabric grew, costume designer Irene Sharaff decided to use Thai silk in the theatre production of The King and I. 

With Thompson's venture into the silk business prospering, leading fashion houses throughout Europe and America were soon showcasing his beautiful silks.

A naturally gregarious man, Thompson disliked solitude, and it became customary for prominent Westerners visiting Bangkok to call on him, at his 'House on the Klong' - a group of traditaional Thai wooden houses which Thompson assembled in 1959.  Showcasing an extraordinary collection of antiques and objets d'art, the house today remains as one of Bangkok's most charming and top tourist attractions.  Over the next twenty years, Thompson grew the Thai Silk Company into an international empire that endures as the largest manufacturer of handwoven fabrics.

On Easter Sunday 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on holiday in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands.  He apparently strolled into the formidable jungle and was never seen again.  His disappearance left no clues and attracted massive media coverage.  In the ensuing years, the unsolved case brought forth a host of conspiracy theories contrived by unusual characters.  Some speculated that he had been assassinated in connection with alleged wartime activities in the CIA, while others surmised that he crafted his own disappearance after becoming weary of fame.

Though no evidence was ever discovered, the story of the man who almost singlehandedly saved Thailand's silk industry is firmly established in Bangkok's contemporary folklore.  The facts were first recounted by William Warren in 1970 in his book The Legendary American

Today, many people in Thompson's circle are no longer living, allowing the author, who knew Thompson well, to write more freely. 

This revised edition (2014) contains new material on Thompson's private life and his alleged role as a CIA agent, drawn from interviews with people close to the events.  The result is this definitive account of a true-to-life mystery of international proportions. 

About the author:  William "Bill" Warren moved to Thailand in 1960, after a first visit in 1958 to write scripts for a documentary film company.  It was on that trip that he first met Jim Thompson, who would eventually become his friend.  For thirty years, Warren taught at Chulalongkorn University - one of Thailand's oldest and most prestigious universities - where he inspired a generation of students to love both writing and literature.  After retiring from teaching in 1990, he earned his living through writing and by designing gardens.  Warren has been published regularly in the New York Times Magazine, the Reader's Digest and various in-flight magazines.  He has contributed to and produced over fifty books.  Other than the best-selling Jim Thompson:  The Unsolved Mystery, Warren's titles include The Tropical Garden, Thai Style, and Thai Garden Style.  Warren has designed gardens for many high-end properties including the Phuket Yacht Club and the Villa Royale as well as gardens for hotels, embassies, and private properties throughout the Southeast Asian region.  He also designed the garden of his long-time Bangkok residence off Sukhumvit Road.

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