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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Basic Police Story
Book 1 in Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep series

This is a police story that stands above many mysteries I have read lately. Although at first glace it seems to rehash the basics found in other books, it was a pleasant surprise to find otherwise.

The story revolves around a police detective investigating a murder that claimed his partner's life and...
Published on June 24 2010 by Toni Osborne

versus
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 14 2004 by Newton Munnow


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Basic Police Story, June 24 2010
By 
Toni Osborne "The Way I See It" (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1) (Paperback)
Book 1 in Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep series

This is a police story that stands above many mysteries I have read lately. Although at first glace it seems to rehash the basics found in other books, it was a pleasant surprise to find otherwise.

The story revolves around a police detective investigating a murder that claimed his partner's life and which the main suspect is a well-connected US businessman. Bangkok is the location; it is described as an exotic city where sex is sold on the street and where the police are seen more as businessman making money from crimes committed in their district and providing protection to keep order and peace.

The story opens with Sonchai and his partner Pichai on the trail of Bill Bradley an American marine stationed at the US embassy. They eventually found him trapped in his car with deadly snakes. In trying to get to him Pichai is bitten and dies. Partnerless and still in shock, Sonchai learns more about Bradley's shady dealings from an FBI legal attaché. It is soon evident Washington wants things hushed, not a problem for Sonchai...Different country, different rules ...when the guilty party is found; he will be eliminated... problem solved...

Sonchai is joined by FBI Kimberley Jones and the name of Sylvester Warren, a huge player in the jade market and a powerful man in Washington soon becomes the center of their investigation. The investigators soon realise they are on their own, Washington and the Thai police have cut them adrift.... What the detectives will face on the streets of Bangkok will be surprising to the reader......very interesting...

The clash in culture, police procedures and political influence adds many twists and turns to this mystery setting it apart from the usual humdrum police story. Through the eyes of Sonchai we see a whole different world, one with an unfamiliar social structure and religious beliefs, a place that has a prolific sex industry and an underground active in drugs and jade trading. Gender reassignment surgery is practiced and cheaply performed; bribery and protection favours are an accepted way of life for everyone. The diversified characters are cleverly developed with a good sense of humour that flows smoothly and brilliantly. This novel has its bizarre and macabre moments but is as interesting as it is captivating.
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Motoring, but runs out of gas, Feb. 8 2008
By 
Jeffrey H. R. Hemlin (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1) (Paperback)
I loved the first 280 pages of this book. But then the most preposterous denouement is tacked on; that left me, like some other reviewers here, scratching my head.

But again... the first 280 pages were worth the price of admission alone. Viva Sonchai
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5.0 out of 5 stars The bar is very high (no pun intended), March 26 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel (1) (Paperback)
This is a great book! - stunning plot idea, fascinating prinicpal characters and locale, incredibly well researched, very well written, enough sociological insight to please a university professor, and plot turns that kept me guessing right to the end. If five percent of the thrillers I read were this good, I'd become a buddhist myself like Detective Sonchai. A must read for control freaks!!
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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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2.0 out of 5 stars great idea, June 30 2004
By A Customer
I thought the idea of this book was better than the actual read. I loved the idea of a "thriller" acted out in an exotic setting; but I found that the story was just pretty good and by the time the "mystery" had been solved I was ready to be finished with the thing.
One more point: there was a strange tone of condescension throughout the book which was obviously supposed to be part of the narrator's character but it was a little bit too obvious that the author's personal gripes were showing through. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
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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 14 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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5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific cultural mystery, March 6 2004
By A Customer
Make no mistake: this is a genre book--a mystery. It does not transcend the genre, but it is among the best mysteries I have read. I love mysteries that take place in other (than American) cultures and exhibit a real understanding of that culture. Having been to Thailand several times, Bangkok 8 fits that bill. It is enthralling: sex, murder, rebirth, Buddhism, corruption, drugs, gems, revenge.
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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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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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