Vulture Peak Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jan 10 2012
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Praise for John Burdett and his Bangkok novels
“Burdett’s fever-dream mysteries, set in Bangkok, recast the police procedural as psychedelic peep show.” —The New Yorker
“Burdett is purely and simply a wonderful writer.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Those who hunger for more tastes, sounds and smells of Bangkok as only Burdett can render them need have no fear . . . It is Sonchai’s unique ability to be both consummate insider and curious outsider that makes him the ideal cicerone to the high life and low life of Bangkok.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Burdett writes like a dark angel.” —Chicago Tribune
“Burdett’s attention to character and his studiously elegant prose style elevate this work well above the usual . . . Pensive, articulate Sonchai has a strong philosophical bent that makes him an excellent guide to the seamy Southeast Asian underworld.” — Entertainment Weekly
“Spellbinding . . . To conjure Burdett’s unique blend of garishness and gravitas, imagine a Conrad novel transformed into a video game . . . Scintillating.” —The Boston Globe
“Exuberant . . . Sonchai’s voice is so distinctively off-kilter as the narrator of his own misadventures, he could read the ingredients list of Singha beer out loud and readers would be entranced.” —Newsday
About the Author
John Burdett was brought up in North London and worked as a lawyer in Hong Kong. To date he has published seven novels, including the Bangkok series: Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, and Vulture Peak.
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Top Customer Reviews
I have read all the novels in this series and this one has to be one of the best so far. Just like the previous novels this one takes you through the seedier side of Bangkok, the streets where you meet fascinating people who compete aggressively to run and to work their trade and please the demands of foreigners.
Burdett's fifth Bangkok novel opens with a very descriptive setting, the bizarre triple murder at a pleasure palace where Sonchai and his detective partner Lek happen to be knee deep in the gruesome details and scratching their head looking for answers. The three victims are found in a bed with their vital organs and all traces of identification removed, including face and fingers. Sonchai and Lek quickly come to the conclusion that this case may have links to their superior, the very corrupt Police Colonel Vikhorn, a powerful man with a long reach and a dark cloud hanging over him.
The trail leads them to an international organ trafficking business run by the ruthless identical twins, Lilly and Polly Yip. Sonchai's only hope of catching them is to set in motion a massive sting operation that involves players that work out of Phuket, Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, and Monte Carlo. He soon discovers the criminal ring's main source of organs is from executed Chinese prisoners however the demand of wealthy Westerners whose organs have worn out exceeds that supply, forcing the gang to expand into new territories.
On the home front all work and no play for Sonchai creates another crisis. He suspects his long absence has left an opening for his wife to fall back on her previous life as an active prostitute.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So, while admitting the flaws, I review why you may want to try out Burdett if you are unfamiliar with his sagas. They are narrated by Sonchai, a young Buddhist cop in Bangkok with a mix of attitude, fatalism and cynicism as he navigates through a swamp of vice and sado-anything violence. He is the son of a good natured and respectable prostitute now turned bar/brothel owner and sort of married to an ex-prostitute who is finishing off her Phd thesis. His transgender deputy is awaiting the operation and his boss is a police chief who runs most of the drug trade and protection rackets in a rivalry with a General who has his own clandestine operations -- and troops.
In Vulture Peak, the emerging racket is kidnapping for body part transfers. The shady figures behind the business and the murders by disembowelment plus face removal that X is assigned to solve include twin sisters, ladies of a decidedly psychotic nature that would attract the admiration of Hannibal Lechter. There's a Shanghai cop who is bipolar to the nth degree of manic and a cagey Hong Kong cop plus Dorothy and Om and Manu, none of whom would be described as normal.
What makes the books work for me is that they never fall into campiness, caricature or cartoon exaggeration. They have a sense of realism, no matter how unreal the situation. Burdett writes with irony and elegance, downplaying the violence in a sort of Buddhist fatalism; everything is calm and lucidly laid out. I personally dislike horror novels and films but somehow the gruesome nature of the story is laconically kept at a distance. It is all definitely weird but in a surprisingly reasonable way/
In his personal interviews and the stories themselves, Burdett makes clear his respect and sympathy for the many prostitutes, bar girls and madams who swirl through the scene. They have made a sensible choice about how to make a living, don't view sex as sin but a routine, and in many instances are primarily committed to helping out their families. In the same way, the transgenders - often cops - are ordinary in their aspirations and just going along with the flow. The bad people are bad mainly because of greed but the "deviants" are ordinary and going with the flows of Bangkok life, some of them good, some bad and varying in their eccentricities. Burdett is quite skilled in getting you to take them as they are and he draws you into their frame of reference. He can be funny and perceptively sharp, especially in knocking the Westerners who are obsessed with sex and sin, in a rush, looking for meaning and purpose, and judgmental.
It's all fun and shrewd. The plotting gets convincingly convoluted. The style is workmanlike with frequent neat observations. It's candy for the mind, but well above average in quality of story, characterization and pacing. It's out of the ordinary in every way and captures and keeps the reader's attention (well, mine, anyway). I recommend it as well worth trying - you may find it surprisingly tasty.
I read some earlier Sonchai mysteries, but drifted away from them recently. The author's graphic scenes and bitter ironies are not for the faint of heart, of which I may be one.
Vulture Peak is full of body parts. While the beautiful women and boys of Thailand are selling their bodies to tourists in every bar, a fabulous mansion on a hill overlooking Phuket becomes the scene of a gruesome triple-homicide involving missing body parts. Sonchai's boss, Colonel Vikam, puts him on the case - which quickly expands to an all-out campaign against international organ trafficking.
I liked the author's flashes of sympathy for the outré behavior of transvestites and their psychological struggles surrounding "the operation."
I liked the scenes involved cynical American consultants crafting a political campaign for Colonel Vikam, who is suddenly and inexplicably running for mayor of Bangkok.
And I have to admit John Burdett has a gift for creating bizarre characters: the sadistic twin female organ traders, the crazed ex-soldier with a missing face, the bipolar cop bent on martyrdom...
Burdett has invented his own unique mix of warped humor, brutal satire, manic plotting and unorthodox social and spiritual lessons. The roller coaster ride left me queasy. But hardcore fans of detective Sonchai know the drill, and should enjoy Vulture Peak.
A triple murder occurs in an opulent seaside mansion overlooking the Andaman Sea, the victims found cleanly shot in the head but minus all their transplantable body parts. It doesn't take much thinking for Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep to conclude that these murders are connected to his new assignment to close down an international operation trafficking in human organs, many of which appear not to have been provided voluntarily. Thus opens Vulture Peak. Before it closes, Sonchai, accompanied by beautiful but evil Chinese twins and armed with a black American Express card that opens doors to luxuries not normally part of a police detective's lifestyle, ventures as far as Dubai and Monte Carlo to get to the source of the criminal activity. Complicating matters is the fact that Sonchai's boss, Police Colonel Vikorn, who assigned him to the case, is a drug dealer himself. Vikorn is embarking on a political campaign to be elected governor of Bangkok. General Zinna of the Royal Thai Army, his longtime rival in organized crime, is apparently involved in the organ-trafficking, and, in addition to the blow to an enemy, it would certainly enhance Vikorn's political reputation to be perceived as the spearhead of an effort to rid Thailand of this heinous activity. Burdett delivers a tangled and satisfactory plot full of twists and betrayals that keep the reader guessing where it all is going to lead.
The first clue that Vulture Peak is more complex than the plot summary above might suggest comes right on the first page when narrator-protagonist Sonchai comments, "It's as good a place as any for a triple homicide." Sonchai immediately comes across as engaging , someone it would be nice to know better. Although he has learned to cope in a thoroughly corrupt, almost depraved society, Sonchai remains a decent person and a committed Buddhist whose outlook, lends a positive feel to what could have been a very downbeat book if written by a different author. His dry wit gave me a number of chuckles and several laugh-out-loud moments.
Author John Burdett has lived in Thailand and Hong Kong and knows present-day Asian society. In addition to the description of Thai society itself, there are many comments on western civilization past and present from an Asian perspective that are not what one normally encounters in a crime novel, such as the many references to "capitalist society" and an interesting historical sidebar on the British role in drug trafficking in Asia.
Even more interesting is the way Buddhist philosophy permeates the book through the observations of the narrator. Few western readers would pause if a Christian-influenced character made an observation such as "the poor we shall always have with us", and Vulture Peak has equivalent Buddhist observations such as "the Buddha taught that the distinction between subject and object, the self and other, even between you and me, is illusory". These non-western philosophical insights were colorful and thought-provoking and enjoyable to me on an intellectual level. They also provide the motivation for Sonchai's interactions with the outside world, affecting both his conduct on the job and his personal interactions, such as his response to the possibility that his wife may has been unfaithful to him.
Despite the many enjoyable features of the book, there were a few drawbacks. The degree of societal corruption described is thoroughly unpleasant, and commercial activities seem TOTALLY wrapped up in alcohol, drugs, and sex. Even the decent folks, such as Sonchai's wife Chanya, an ex-prostitute who is writing her PhD dissertation on sex trafficking, are focused on vice. It may be a fairly realistic picture, given a bit of literary license, but I am not sure I really want to know about it; it was distasteful. And even if the overall portrayal is valid, the incidence of transsexuals lacks credibility, and I wonder why the author emphasizes it so much.
Vulture Peak was my first introduction to Sonchai. I did not feel I needed to the background of the other book in the series to enjoy this one, and I will look forward to reading the others and getting to know Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep even better.
John Burdett's books, despite their tendency to be over the top at times, are always long on atmosphere and memorable characters. Vulture Peak is no exception. Before it is over, Sonchai's investigation will take him away from the city and into the streets of Hong Kong, Dubai, Monte Carlo, and Shanghai. As the investigation moves forward, he must deal with an extraordinary cast of good guys, cops, suspects, and assorted villains of multiple nationalities. The lineup includes two sisters I defy any reader to forget quickly, Chinese identical twins with a history of weirdness that goes back to their childhood and makes them the perfect criminals.
Vulture Peak is Thai noir at its finest and will likely entice readers to read the entire series from the beginning in order to find out how the relationship between Sonchai Jitpleecheep and Police Colonel Vikorn has evolved over time.