Sunday, December 23, 2007
Bangkok 8 (2003) John Burdett
Sonchai and his life-long friend and now partner in the Bangkok police force, Pichai, are following an American Marine through Bangkok, on the orders of the Colonel, the head of the police department in his sector. When the Marine is murdered and the woman he was with has disappeared, Sonchai–for now personal reasons–searches for both the killer and the reason for the Marine’s death.
First things first, this is NOT a book for my grandmother. She won’t like it at all. Sonchai is the son of a Thai prostitute, and as such is quite familiar with the bars and prostitutes in Bangkok–visiting them frequently in his search for the missing woman. There are also frank discussions about prostitution and sex in Thailand. The drug trade is Thailand is also prominent in this book, and is discussed in detail–not just the business aspects of the trade, but also it’s use throughout the city.
Now, caveats aside, I LOVED this book. Sonchai is a marvelously complex character. His mother was a very successful prostitute, so his background was such that he is multi-lingual and well-educated, which help to offset his obviously mixed parentage. He is also, like many others in the book, a devout Buddhist, and some of the beliefs were rather surprising, but the manner in which Sonchai blandly makes these statements keeps these beliefs acceptable (rather than surreal) to a Western mind (at least this Western mind.) Although I have to admit that there were multiple times where I was shocked by the things Sonchai so blithely accepts are part of doing business in Bangkok.
The mystery leads Sonchai back and forth between the city’s prostitutes and the wealthy, and the way he shifts almost effortlessly between these two worlds–and seems to lack the outrage at these differences you’d except all things considered–gives the book at times a surreal feel. Additionally, Sonchai’s acceptance of these things makes you realize how horrible something has to be before it causes outrage. And by the end of the book I was willing to accept Thai justice rather than expecting the usual American justice of a police procedural.
As the reviews on the say, this mystery is vivid and exotic and all those other things. But it is also an excellent and enjoyable read and one I highly recommend to anyone who isn’t going to be bothered by the frank sexuality and drug use of the characters.