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Bangkok Hauntsby John Burdett
Synopses & Reviews
Sonchai Jitpleecheep — the devout Buddhist Royal Thai Police detective who led us through the best sellers Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo — returns in this blistering new novel.
Sonchai has seen virtually everything on his beat in Bangkok's District 8, but nothing like the video he's just been sent anonymously: "Few crimes make us fear for the evolution of our species. I am watching one right now."
He's watching a snuff film. And the person dying before his disbelieving eyes is Damrong — a woman he once loved obsessively and, now it becomes clear, endlessly. And there is something more: something at the end of the film that leaves Sonchai both figuratively and literally haunted.
While his investigation will lead him through the office of the ever-scheming police captain, Vikorn ("Don't spoil a great case with too much perfectionism," he advises Sonchai); in and out of the influence of a perhaps psychotic wandering monk; and eventually into the gilded rooms of the most exclusive men's club in Bangkok (whose members will do anything to protect their identities, and to explore their most secret fantasies), it also leads him to his own simple bedroom where he sleeps next to his pregnant wife while his dreams deliver him up to Damrong...
Ferociously smart and funny, furiously fast-paced, and laced through with an erotic ghost story that gives a new dark twist to the life of our hero, Bangkok Haunts does exactly that from first page to last.
"On my third visit to Thailand in as many months this past winter, a Thai friend greeted me on the phone with the words, 'Ah, you've come back to paradise!' He was only half kidding. The famous Southeast Asian land of smiles and guiltless hedonism, as well as the most exquisite green curry on Earth, is truly enchanting for most of the 14 million-plus tourists who visit there each year. But too bad... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) for the visitors who are unlucky enough — or reckless enough — to come in contact with the Thai criminal justice system. It is rotten to the core, as it's convincingly portrayed in a wonderful mystery series that is at once sprightly and densely layered, like the Thais themselves. It's a little hard to believe that Bangkok detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, English writer John Burdett's appealing protagonist in 'Bangkok Haunts,' is the only honest cop in Thailand. It's unclear, too, how he got that way; Sonchai is 'leuk kreung,' or half-caste, the son of a former prostitute and an American GI father he never knew. But somehow his differentness has made him both unbribeable and a keen cultural anthropologist whose principles are as admirable as his insights are professionally useful and often deliciously droll. 'Haunts' in this third of the Sonchai series acts as both noun and verb. Some haunts are places: the Old Man's Club, the middle-class brothel owned by Sonchai and his hard-nosed entrepreneur mom; the Parthenon Club, a Thai 'HiSo' (high society) sex club for the country's 'invisible men' who are normally beyond the reach of the law; and the government and capitalist aeries atop banks and other Bangkok skyscrapers — the apex of a nominally democratic society that remains in many ways stubbornly feudal. Other 'haunts' here are actually hauntings, as in the office of forensic pathologist Dr. Supatra. She proudly shows Sonchai and visiting FBI agent Kimberley Jones (introduced in 'Bangkok Tattoo,' the previous book in the series) her digital video recording of the ghosts that fornicate in the morgue after she has left for the night. A puzzled Jones later asks Sonchai if he believes these ghosts to be 'real.' He replies, 'Depends on what you mean by real.' It's an answer that speaks volumes about the nature of reality in a society that is successfully modern — Thailand basically works — even though most Thais are animist Buddhists whose everyday lives are inhabited by ghosts and spirits that must be catered to with offerings, protective amulets and the like. When Jones labels Dr. Supatra 'eccentric,' Sonchai explains, 'All Thais are eccentric, Kimberley. Nobody colonized us. We don't have much of a global norm to follow.' One complaint I heard in Thailand about Burdett's series is that it fixates on the grotesque. In 'Bangkok Tattoo,' an aggrieved transsexual Thai murders a black American Marine with drug-crazed cobras and a giant python. If anything, 'Bangkok Haunts' is even more bizarre, with ghosts on the rampage and a uniquely grisly Thai form of execution called the elephant game. The central crime in 'Bangkok Haunts' is the murder by strangulation of a prostitute whom Sonchai once was nuts about. He learns of Damrong Baker's ghastly demise from a snuff film sent to him anonymously. His quest to find the killer is complicated by obstacles thrown up by, among others, Sonchai's boss, Col. Vikorn. He doesn't want any HiSo types prosecuted, and he instructs Sonchai, 'Don't spoil a great case with too much perfectionism.' Instead, Vikorn would rather that Sonchai helped him supplement his booming illegal methamphetamine business by expanding into video pornography. Burdett's big finish this time features a deus-ex-machina rescue that's less plausible than his ghostly visitations and their shrewd psychocultural underpinnings. What never falter are Sonchai's captivating, sometimes teasing voice — he often addresses the reader as 'farang' (the Thai word for Westerner) and Burdett's affectionate take on everything visiting farangs find fascinatingly upside-down and backward in Thailand. There's a memorable comic scene in which an Australian with a big beer gut, who is marrying into a Thai family, sits quietly eating oysters while the women in the family enjoy a good laugh over the bride's description of the couple's necessarily acrobatic sex life. Talk of sex is open and jolly among the Thais in the Sonchai books, while an exchange between Col. Vikorn and a wealthy banker over a possible bribe is camouflaged as a discussion about the value of an antique vase. In Burdett's always amazing Thailand, euphemism is reserved for the sinister." Reviewed by Richard Lipez, who writes detective fiction under the name Richard Stevenson, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Burdett's spare storytelling style leaves readers fascinated." Library Journal
"Who knew that Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo were just the warm-up acts? As vibrantly as those sizzling thrillers captured the exotic flavor of crime and corruption in Thailand's capital city, John Burdett's Bangkok Haunts opens up new avenues of awe." Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
"The fun springs from the realization that Jitpleecheep...is as clueless as the reader. The ending defies logic or even premonition, and will stay with you long after you've forgotten how to spell our hero's name, illogic and all." Oregonian
"Burdett is equally good with male and female characters." Boston Globe
"[A] worthy entry in a series that invites readers to adjust their ideas of justice and sin." Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
John Burdett is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, and Bangkok Tattoo.
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