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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Engaging ... A Great Purchase!
Having been struggling with unreadable and nearly unreadable books, I was beginning to wonder whether the problem was what I was reading or my patience and attention span. John Burdett's pulsating Bangkok 8 is 318 pages long. Devouring it reassured me that I can be grabbed and held by a book.
The "8" of the title refers to a police precinct. The book's narrator...
Published on June 28 2005 by Barry Welles

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3.0 out of 5 stars A strong city, a weak cast
I picked this up when I saw that the blurbs on the back cover came from my two favorite crimes writers, Carl Hiaasen and James Ellroy. I suppose I was hoping for great things, either Hiaasen's light hand, or Ellroy's dark tales of intrigue. However, when a character takes a deep breath and delivers a one to three page sermon on, amongst other things, jade, prostitution...
Published on April 13 2004 by Newton Munnow


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Engaging ... A Great Purchase!, June 28 2005
This review is from: Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1) (Paperback)
Having been struggling with unreadable and nearly unreadable books, I was beginning to wonder whether the problem was what I was reading or my patience and attention span. John Burdett's pulsating Bangkok 8 is 318 pages long. Devouring it reassured me that I can be grabbed and held by a book.
The "8" of the title refers to a police precinct. The book's narrator Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his partner Pichai Apiradee are the only detectives in the City of Angels (the meaning of the Thai name for the capital city, Krung Thep) who do not take bribes. Both are protégés of a Buddhist abbott whose brother is Col. Vikorn, the immensely rich commander of precinct 8's police force.
Col. Vikorn has assigned Sonchai and Pichai to follow William Bradley, a strikingly handsome and very large black U. S. Marine sergeant. The policeman lose him in traffic and then real disaster strikes. There is a killing of diabolical refinement that required considerable organization. "Whodunit?" is a question of interest to Sonchai and there are an array of powers (official and criminal, Thai and American, and very interconnected) seeking to prevent one answer to that question. Plus, there are the more interesting questions of how the killing was organized and why the particular and elaborate method was developed for executing a novice and minor player in the (also interconnected) businesses of jade mining, art fraud, drug-smuggling, Khmer Rouge thuggery, and payoffs of Thai officials.
Sonchai is the son of a bar-girl (prostitute) and a US serviceman who was on R&R from the Vietnam war and, as a child, accompanied his mother on her extended romances in France, German, and the United States. Sonchai is multilingual and as the token clean cop is often a liaison from the Bangkok police to western embassies when something happens to one of their citizens (or, in this case, staff members). Culturally, Sonchai is Thai. With his Eurasian features, foreign travels, and fluency in western languages, however, he cannot be totally unself-consciously Thai, which is convenient for including reflections on Thai ways of doing things that would be taken-for-granted by most Thais. (And less of a reach for the non-Thai novelist.)
Sonchai's very pragmatic mother, who goes into business with Col. Vikorn as a partner and (of course!) protector, Pichai's mother ) who was also a prostitute), a very strikingly beautiful outcast (progeny of a black GI and a Karin mother), and Sonchai (who grew up in and around the flesh trade) lay out indigenous views of prostitution and drug trafficking. (There is also a houseful or Russian prostitutes in Pattaya with similar views about "degradation" and making money that Sonchai visits to get information.)
There are, indeed, a vast assortment of characters, some wild humor, a smattering of sex (along with a standoff between the Buddhist Sonchai determined to remain chaste and Kimberly Jones, the attractive and smart FBI agent dispatched to aid investigation of the marine's killing), and some action of the mayhem and murder variety. (There are guns on view, but no gunfire.) The mix of Buddhist laissez-faire (or is it fatalism?) and entrepreneurial materialism (Chinese even more than American) affecting Thais in the teeming metropolis seems accurate to me, as does the rendering of Bangkok's heat and humidity (not just the Patpong indoors kinds...).
The plot is very complicated, and connected to epic and very international corruption. Some readers feel let down by the ending. My view is that it would be impossible to top the beginning and that the ending is fitting - somewhat contrived and including karmic retribution within the lifetime of a central villain rather than leaving it to reincarnation, - but just right in mood. I don't buy the FBI agent's final involvement, but am impressed that there aren't loose ends, considering how many there were to tie up. Burdett's mastery of the craft of plotting is impressive.
He also creates many interesting characters (Kimberly Jones is a failure, but a valiant attempt), particularly the narrator and his boss. It does seem that almost everyone (except the Khmer assassins) is very articulate and ready to explain themselves - their justifications for what they do and how they fit into larger schemes - to Sonchai. Sonchai is regarded by some (but not by himself) as an arhat (a Thai bodhisattva, i.e., an enlightened being who out of compassion sticks around to try to relieve suffering, particularly human anguish). Like Sonchai being biracial and bicultural, his aura of being an arhat is convenient in providing a rationale for the author to provide explanations to the reader. That everyone responds to Sonchai by spilling their guts strains credulity, but does not leave the reader befuddled in the way real life often does. As a vengeance thriller, as a series of vignettes into tumultous social change in Bangkok, and as a look into some views of sex and drugs alien to Americans, even to anti-puritanical ones, Bangkok 8 is a very accomplished novel. Pick up a copy of this terrific page-turner. Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Bangkok, but very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition," a funny, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Hype, but not a good story, July 14 2004
By A Customer
I wanted to love this book, but I could recommend 1,000 mysteries/thrillers that are more fun and better written. The Bangkok sex industry is exotic, and the main character might be unusual. But I never believed that he existed because every other character was pasted together with cardboard and cliche: the incorruptible female FBI agent, the psychotic sadist, the corrupt Thai cop. Every character seems to have super powers -- the agent can get endless information, the sadist had endless connections to the US government and gangsters, another character has convinced ruthless Khmer to be enlessly loyal. No one seems motived by normal life like loyalty, fear, greed, etc. In the end, nothing happens on stage. It's just a book where people talk about things that have happened (and where the hero figures things out by just walking up to people who spill the entire truth for no apparent reason). That is boring. In the end, I decided that Burdett spent 90% of his time thinking about cool concepts that he could use to pitch the movie script -- and no time actually putting together a book. Go read Elmore Leonard instead.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Buddhist Sort of Mystery, April 29 2004
By 
C M Magee (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
First the bad: I found the book to be less than gracefully written. At times the language is painfully stilted. I know that I am not used to the "hard-boiled" style that many detective stories employ, but too often the prose caused me to lurch to a standstill while my brain rotated the offensive sentence around in my head, unwilling to go on. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Burdett used Thai Buddhism to add fascinating depth and nuance to the story. I have often been wary of Buddhism in general, mostly because my only experience with it is as a trendy religion, the accessory of Beastie Boys fans and cause-hungry hippies for whom the Free Tibet bumper sticker perfectly conceals the country club parking permit on the bumper of the Volvo. Burdett's Thai Buddhism, however, is both unassuming and universal. He presents it as inseparable from Thai culture, and naturally the Buddhist way of thinking, so different from our cold Western logic, becomes integral to solving the mystery (we are investigating the gruesome death by multiple snakes of an American marine, by the way.) It's not so tidy as most detective stories, but then that too, follows the Buddhist way of thinking and is the strongpoint of the book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A strong city, a weak cast, April 13 2004
I picked this up when I saw that the blurbs on the back cover came from my two favorite crimes writers, Carl Hiaasen and James Ellroy. I suppose I was hoping for great things, either Hiaasen's light hand, or Ellroy's dark tales of intrigue. However, when a character takes a deep breath and delivers a one to three page sermon on, amongst other things, jade, prostitution or buddhist beliefs, you discover that you are not in the hands of an expert. It seems as if Burdett had almost too much that he wanted to impart to the reader and rather than work pieces skilfully into the plot, he opted for dense exposition. It is a shame, because Burdett can write well. Sochai Jitpleecheep comes across as a well developed character and would have held the book together had he not been surrounded by a paper thin supporting cast. Take your pick, the [attractive] FBI agent with a crush on our hero, the [prostitute] with a heart of gold, the evil millionaire sexual sadist. Most of Burdett's secondary characters are little more than B-movie types given the odd line of amusing dialogue. It's a shame, because Burdett does a fine job bringing the city and the culture to life. If only he had found the right characters to populate his streets.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A spicy, exotic murder mystery, March 5 2004
A black marine sergeant is sitting in the back seat of a Mercedes, dead from cobra bites, and his head in the mouth of a crazed python that is trying to swallow him whole. When detectives Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his best friend Pichai arrive on the scene, one cobra fastens on Pichai's eyeball, killing him instantly. Sonchai, the half-breed product of a brief liaison of a Thai prostitute and an American GI, wants to find the criminal and wants revenge for Pichai. With the help (or hindrance, depending on the situation) of an FBI agent named Kimberly Jones who has a crush on him, Sonchai traces the crime back to a wealthy American jade dealer named Sylvester Warren, who hobnobs with the high rollers on Capitol Hill and has a particularly nasty hobby of flaying prostitutes alive, and his protegée Fatima, an exquisite half-black, half-Asian transsexual who went from street urchin to diva, and now has a hidden agenda all her own.
Sonchai, who is probably the only honest cop left in the graft-ridden Thai police force, quickly solves the "whodunit"; what he wants to know now is the "why". Turns out that Warren and the dead marine are linked together in some pretty shady enterprises, with the connivance and participation of Sonchai's chief Vikorn. Burdett shows us the sordid underbelly of Bangkok: the corrupt police, the sex bars that stay open all night, the drug dealing, the peculiarly Thai mindset that an outsider like Jones can never hope to understand. One of his Burdetts most interesting (and endearing, I have to admit) characters is Sonchai's intrepid mother Nong, a former bargirl who has parlayed her gift of languages, learned from living off Western lovers, and her shrewd head for business, into a venture that is sure to make her rich -- a brothel catering exclusively for the Viagra set. Is this immoral? Or is she simply filling an unmet need? It depends on how you look at it; just as one needs to put aside one's Western prejudices and read this book from an Eastern perspective. The one cavil I have with the book is Burdett's tendency to stereotype; the venal Vikorn probably doesn't represent all Thai policemen any more than the bitter and sexually frustrated Jones represents all American career women. It's the one jarring note in an otherwise very good mystery novel.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Long and verbose with a rambling plot, Feb. 27 2004
By 
Larry (Tampa, Florida) - See all my reviews
Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a cop in Bangkok. He is of mixed extraction- father was a GI in Vietnam and is now long gone. His mother was a bar girl. He and his partner are called to investigate the death of a black marine sergeant who is found dead in his car after being trapped in the vehicle with many highly poisonous cobras and a deadly python. Sonchai's partner is killed by one of the snakes while trying to get the marine out. Sonchai wants questions answered- who is the marine and why was he killed? Who killed him? The answers will not only solve the crime but, to Sonchai's mind, allow him to seek revenge over the death of his partner.
BANGKOK 8 is a very long verbose book that delves into life in the dark underbelly of the city that lends its name to the title. We meet dozens of unsavory individuals as Sonchai searches for answers. The portrait of the city and its inhabitants are superbly and carefully rendered. However, as a thriller and as an entertainment, the book lacks a true pulse. The plot meanders through much explanation of Sonchai's philosophy on life. Of course these explanations slow down the pacing to practically a standstill. Getting through the book is rendered even more difficult by the sheer volume of characters the reader must keep track of.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not A Masterpiece, But An Enjoyable Yarn, Jan. 25 2004
By 
Patrick Mc Coy (Tokyo, Japan) - See all my reviews
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I recently devoured Bangkok 8 in a couple of days. It is a compelling mystery with excellent use of local culture and customs to add color to the novel. It is literally overflowing with lurid and accurate details of Bangkok. He also manages to convey a lot about Buddhism. I liked how he used a radio call in talk show with a sociologist host to make observations and analysis about Thai culture and societal problems, rather than giving long speeches to characters. I like the fact that he made the main character half Thai and half Caucasian (or double if you prefer). This dual status gives him access and insight into Thai culture and western culture. Furthermore, it makes him an outsider in both cultures as well. He is also well steeped in the world of prostitution since his mother used to earn her living via the trade. In addition, his Buddhism and personal knowledge of the street makes him a pure cop, who doesn't take a bribe, but is tolerated for his ability to speak English, which can come in handy for the police department. The ending is somewhat anti-climatic, but somehow appropriate to the tone of the story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, Jan. 23 2004
I just finished reading it, and couldn't put it down. Very suspenseful and also poignant, as the main character is the son of a Thai prostitute and a white American soldier. He gives a moving picture of life in the ... trade, life as a half caste in Thailand, and life as a Thai Buddhist. This last was fascinating and a big part of why I recommend this book. It's a page turner of a murder mystery, starting with a dead marine and a beautiful suspect, but the best part is following what we have come to think of as a standard story through the viewpoint of a Buddhist cop working in a corrupt, if "compassionate" culture. It's hilarious at times, and at times heartbreaking, and if you happen to guess who the murderer is, you'll still never guess why. To people who say the ending is a letdown, well, that is one of the drawbacks of this type of book. It's always a letdown to solve a tantalizing case and end a compelling read. This book was definitely worth it, and I've already bought another of his books to read asap.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining Read, Jan. 2 2004
By 
Emil L. Posey (Huntsville, AL USA) - See all my reviews
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An unusual murder and the concomitant death of a partner who was also a cherished, life-long friend - so begins an intriguing, garish, yet sympathetic look into the underside of life in Bangkok. These deaths occurred in Bangkok's 8th police district (hence the title). As summarized on the front end flap, "Under a Bangkok bridge, inside a bolted-shut Mercedes: a murder by snake - a charismatic African American Marine sergeant killed by a methamphetamine-stoked python and a swarm of stoned cobras. Two cops - the only two in the city not on the take - arrive too late. Minutes later, only one is alive: Sonchai Jitpleecheep - a devout Buddhist, equally versed in the sacred and the profane - son of a long-gone Vietnam War G.I. and a Thai bar girl whose subsequent international clientele contributed richly to Sonchai's sophistication."
The unusual circumstances behind the two deaths are matched by a variety of compelling, occasionally surrealistic characters Detective Jitpleecheep encounters as he works his way through seemingly disparate clues - bargirls who use the only resource available to themselves as they try to find a better life, an international art dealer who uses his power to satisfy his sado-sexual fantasies, a transsexual driven by a desire for revenge, and police officials that use and perpetuate institutionalized corruption as a vehicle to achieve personal wealth and power. Along the way he ruminates on his past, his close relationship with his now-dead partner, subtleties of Thai culture, and an uncertain future as he struggles to reconcile his inner conflict: his Western biological roots versus his deep affinity for Thai culture; his role in a tangled world versus his longing for self-enlightenment and inner peace. His struggle mirrors the broader struggle that is Burdett's central theme: the longing for a spiritual Buddhist past versus the increasing encroachment of Western technological consumerism.
The plot is contrived, somewhat larger than life, but luckily doesn't get in the way. It holds one's interest, but the beauty of the book is the story of the seamier side of Bangkok's culture. Burdett has captured the turmoil, the inner conflict, of a spiritual people who avoided outright European colonization (one of a small handful of Asian countries to do so) only to succumb to Western wealth in the second half of the twentieth century. The conflict within Detective Jitpleecheep mirrors this broader Thai conundrum.
Burdett's style is readable; the story well paced. The ending is a bit strange, but the descriptions of Thai culture and life in Bangkok that season the book throughout are a delight. It has the makings of a movie along with a sequel or two. One hope's we have not heard the last from Sonchai Jitpleecheep.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, Magical, Gritty, Nov. 13 2003
Great Surreal, yet gritty Portrait of Bangkok, a "why'd-they-do-it", magical, Spicey, with a fresh, funky ending. Does not follow dogmatic, petrified-wood thriller formula.
Ignore the folks complaining this is anti-American or whatever....I think most people can tell by the book title that it's about Bangkok. If you want a really, really patriotic American story....I don't know, maybe look for a book that doesn't have Bangkok in the title.
You have 2 childhood friends, Sonchai and Pinchai, troublemakers sent to the Bhuddist Monastery for a year by their prostitute mothers, then placed on the police force. They are so spiritual, devout, they could ascend to heaven now, but resist to pay for their sins. Being in the monastery apparently rewired their delinquent brains, as they seem to be more sensitive to the environment, people, and possibly, the nonvisible universe.
Yet, for all his straining for spiritual ideals, he is accidentally always around westerners, drawn to top-of-the-line clothing and perfumes. He has a yearning for connection to his mysterious caucasian father, and that the only males to spend quality time with him were westerners.
They are sent to tail a US Marine, only to find him murdered in a freaky revenge killing, and our lead's pal is accidentally killed. For all his buddist values, he vows deadly revenge.
There's a lot of atmosphere building, lots of background which is fascinating, especially the lifestyle and treatment of prostitutes, and their children, especially the half-asian ones.
He and the FBI team to work on this case, only it starts to get sticky politically, starts reaching far up the American foodchain. He is paired up with some americans but eventually ends up with MS. FBI who seems to be pursuing this in her own vendetta, and she has twisted the facts in order to pursue the culprit against top-brass orders.
It is interesting to see the clash of styles in personal dynamics between Ms. FBI and him. He's used to female Thai behavior, their flirting, approachability and sexuality. She is slow to warm up, very business-like and assertive, which to him is manlike. It is very interesting to see them alternately flirting, then offending each other, getting turned off, yet still being drawn to each other, despite what they think is commonsense, and their pride and mutual stereotypes get in the way. He can't see it at all, which is rather funny.
They do hammer each other with their dumb mutual stereotypes of what America & Americans are like vs. Thailand and Thai folks are like. (This happens at my work too, when one Thai guy says that Thai schools are so much better, so I "innocently" ask if everybody can fight like Jackie Chan & fly through the air.)
They are both conflicted about themselves. He's supposed to be free of desires, yet lonely, can't seem to not flirt or allow physical proximaty. She's supposed to be professional, robot-like, yet very lonely, alternately wanting professionalism yet starving for connection and romance.
His police boss, although corrupt, is a caring, responsible man, who has done the best he could in life. His mother is one smart ex-prostitute business woman, and she scares him a little with her ambition and brains.
A lot of the things you see in the news about SE Asia are tied together here in vivid grit. The Russians, moonshiners, spirits, ghosts, bribery, artwork, plastic surgery and the drug and sex trade---all portrayed in very interesting fashion.
I did not want to have this story end.
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Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1)
Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1) by John Burdett (Paperback - July 13 2004)
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