This crime novel (317 pages) was published in July of 2004 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. The book takes you to 1990s Bangkok. David read Bangkok 8 and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
Bangkok is a heady blend of monks in saffron-colored robes and sex-trade professionals bustling together on the same streets. Temples and brothels, street food and gangsters. And in the midst of it all, one good man – a police detective — is trying to do the right thing in his steaming, sinister town. This is glorious noir that spares the reader nothing.
Our hero Sonchai Jitpleecheep is seemingly the only detective for the Royal Thai Police who won’t take a bribe. He’s charming, wryly funny, and knows how to handle himself. He’s also a Buddhist who’s reached a certain level of enlightenment — spontaneous meditation is a regular part of his days. The son of a prostitute and a Vietnam vet who left Bangkok years ago, Jitpleecheep always feels a little out-of-place, even in his hometown.
Early in the story, he and his partner (and best friend) are investigating a crime that’s so dangerous, it kills his partner while they’re collecting clues. One moment, the two of them are sitting in a car talking about harmony and karma. The next, his friend is gone. In the throes of grief, Jitpleecheepon calmly explains that he will find and kill his partner’s murderer. Welcome to a Buddhist revenge story.
Author John Burdett is a Brit with a deep affection for Thailand. His prose does a really good job of showing you around Bangkok and explaining, in particular, why people might love and hate it so much. There are numerous pleasures to be enjoyed, but there is also horrific traffic and corruption and tourists. Superstition and the undead make an appearance. It’s easy to see the romance.
This novel moves with violence, adventure, and, surprisingly, insight into what it means to be Buddhist in the modern world. If a gritty thriller with depth set under Bangkok’s neon tempts you, this is the book for you.
I had come on a whim, no doubt in my usual pathetic search for a father; he emerged in chains from behind the endless warren of bars into his side of the visitors’ room in the hope of finding a savior who might somehow get him out of there. No two men have ever disappointed each other more; after five minutes we were laughing like drains. — John Burdett
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