by John Burdett
Knopf, June, 2003.
Hardcover, 318 pages.
The Royal Thai Police runs on an ingrained system of rewards and payments that most Westerners would call institutionalized graft. But the honest cop hero of this amazing thriller is no Frank Serpico. Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a Buddhist, the son of a Thailand courtesan and an American serviceman, who learned about the finer things in life from his mother's wealthy European clients. As penance for some very bad deeds, he has promised a spiritual leader that he will not take bribes; he is literally the only honest cop in Bangkok. His Thai partner and best friend, Pichai, as well as the rest of the force, accept this state of affairs, recognizing that Sonchai is on a higher spiritual path. When a U.S. Marine is murdered in his car in a particularly nasty way (maddened snakes are left in his car), Sonchai and Pichai are ordered to investigate. Pichai is killed when the methamphetamine-poisoned snakes attack everyone who tries to get near the car of the victim. Devastated, Sonchai vows revenge on the killer. But the investigation takes some very odd turns, indeed. And Sonchai is soon caught in the middle of a grisly murder mystery that is related to the the deadly international drug and jade trade.
First time novelist John Burdett, a British lawyer who lives in Hong Kong, presents us with a book that is part thriller and part noir crime story, with a good dose of Buddhist spiritualism and black humor thrown in for good measure. The sum of the novel's parts make for a whole which is moving, darkly funny and very suspenseful. Burdett's genius is in his characterizations: Sonchai, the conflicted but honest cop, Sonchai's mother who has her own ideas about women's lib, Warren Clark, the billionaire jade dealer with a deadly secret, and a beautiful and mysterious courtesan who has some dark secrets indeed. Sonchai is a fascinating and unique character. He is an odd mix of European sophistication, Buddhist philosophy and Thai culture. Raised without ever knowing his father, Sonchai, is a devout Buddhist, who sees people's prior incarnations when he looks at them. This unusual and entertaining thriller stands above many of 2003's entries in the genre.
--Claire E. White
Bangkok 8 is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the January-February, 2004 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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