on September 29, 2007
I love Burdett's mysteries because he truly captures the wonderful quirkiness of the seamy sides of Bangkok. He's also a great writer.
In the early 1980's I lived in Thailand for a few years and Burdett brings me back to the land I loved while catching me up on new developments. He is amazing at giving readers a sense of the culture, the food, the sights and most impressively of the Thai psychology. He's as much an anthropologist as an engaging mystery writer.
"Bangkok Haunts" is the first-person tale of Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep solving the murder case of a former lover, a strikingly gifted whore named Damrong who has been killed in a pornographic snuff film.
In the process, readers continue to get a delightfully funny view of the pragmatic world of Thai whoredom as it caters to Westerners. Burdett also continues to provide the inside scoop on the rampant corruption of Thai police.
In this book, Burdett also lets us in to the soul of Thai spiritual beliefs, superstitions and religious practices. We learn about ghosts and magic and reincarnation and monkhood. We even get to learn about Elephants.
A second delightful theme is the life and culture of the Thai "katoy" -- the surprisingly common Thai transvestite/transgendered transexual. Katoys have been an accepted presence in Thai culture for generations and now they are able to avail themselves of modern medical technology and pursue gender reassignment. (When I lived in Thailand I thought that all gay men were Katoys, but Burdett clarifies that Katoys believe they are women trapped in men's bodies and are different from a "standard" homosexual.)
In this novel, we also get our first Burdett-delivered taste of the Northeast areas of Thailand (the poorest part of the country) and even of Cambodia and the Khmer mentality. I was delighted to get a glimpse of current day Cambodia from Burdett since when I lived in Bangkok the country was off limits to Americans and still trying to recover from the traumatic ravages of Pol Pot's regime.
In this latest offerring of the series -- following "Bangkok 8" and "Bangkok Tatoo" -- Burdett deepens his funny, sympathetic observations of Thai culture and its intersection with the foibles of Westerners. He also continues to deepen the complex personality of his protagonist -- Detective Sonchi -- a moral man in an immoral society and the product of his prostitute mother's affair with an American during the Vietnam war.
If you've ever lived in Thailand, "Bangkok Haunts" will make you nostolgic. If you're planning to vacation in Thailand, you'll learn a lot about what's behind those warm smiles and unusual sights. If you are an anthropologist, historian or sociologist studying Thailand, then Burdett's funny, captivating mysteries should be required reading.
I can't wait for number four in the series -- Burdett just gets better and better.
Book 3 in the Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep series
This series brings a totally different perspective into the art of writing murder mysteries. It not only combines wit and humour, it also exposes us to a world choreographed by deviant players. The tale is told from Detective Sonchai Jitpleechhep's point of view as he guides us through Bangkok's dark side.
This fast-paced and captivating story has Sonchai and FBI agent Kimberley Jones reviewing a DVD that has surfaced from an anonymous source. It is a snuff movie featuring Damrong, Sonchai's ex-lover and high-class prostitute at "The Old Men's Club". Damrong was a crafty and cunning beauty who skilfully used her assets to obtain money and favours from her high profile clientele, leaving in her wake a string of men, some heartbroken and bitter.
Deep into the investigation, Sonchai, his (transsexual) assistant Lek and the FBI realize there is big money in this type of movie and this undoubtedly attracts corrupt and sometimes influential people. When Colonel Vokorn, the opportunistic and shrewd superior of Sonchai, learns of the details he sees his chance to supplement his personal wealth leaving Sonchai caught between his conscience and his boss's wishes.....
The intensity of the story is magnified with an erotic ghost story. Sonchai not only works the case by day but he is haunted by the ghost of Damrong who visits him in so real erotic dreams by night. Ghosts, reincarnation and superstition is a wide spread belief, part of the Thai culture and an important facet of the story and Sonchai's psyche. The supernatural vibe that emanates from Bangkok is witness through Sonchai's exploits in a narration that is entertaining, straightforward and streamlined.
The storyline has an abundance of humour and it particularly shines when Sonchai possessed by the ghost of Damrong needs help to erase her hold on him. The final act brings him to Isaan and Cambodia where he will learn unnerving details about her life and learn to deal with her death..... This novel has great characterization, heavy on passion, lust and sex that are treated in an exciting but tasteful manner.
"Bangkok Haunts" is on many levels a far more mesmerizing and tantalizing novel than the previous. I enjoyed this one much more than the last and I am looking forward to the sequel.
on May 25, 2009
This episode is just so Damrong, from the unbelievable plot to the fantastical climax! I just about bust a gut thinking about the Khymer gangsters being trampled by a couple of sore Elephants - what they ran out of bullets!
Damrong! Formulaic or Formaldehyde Damrong, what a stretch - would have been better to stick to snakes in a car.