- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (Jan. 10 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307272676
- ISBN-13: 978-0307272676
- ASIN: 0307272672
- Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 2.9 x 24.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 522 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #766,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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.
Top customer reviews
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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.
The plot comes across as being believable, is tense, engaging and fast-paced, although its main theme may be the trafficking of human organs the story often veers into other territories, drugs, prostitution and gender reassignment create interesting sub-plots. The first person narrative is fresh and has a humorous touch to it. Mr. Burdett often addresses his audience as DFR (dear farang reader) and loves to stimulate their thoughts about the shenanigans the western tourists get involved in when visiting a country with an open, in your face way of life. The strong characterisation depicts the good, the bad and the ugly sides of a country that is also known for its beauty and its deep spiritual beliefs.
This is another gripping tale with a style of its own that I enjoyed reading.
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By Dr. Robert C. Covel
When I first learned of the title of John Burdett's novel Vulture Peak, I emailed the author and asked him if the title had any significance because the Heart Sutra, one of the Buddha's most important sermons took place on Vulture Peak. Mr. Burdett's response was a rather cagey response: "That's a very astute question . . . . I'll leave it to you to decide when you've read it." I took his response as a challenge, and I have read the novel more than once, considering the possible levels of meaning. My efforts were rewarded, and this essay is my response to his challenge.
Vulture Peak (2012) is John Burdett's fifth crime novel with the protagonist Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a half- American, half Thai policeman from Bangkok. His father was an American GI, and his mother is a retired prostitute and now madam of a brothel in Bangkok. In Vulture Peak, as in the other novels in the series, Sonchai is faced with a world of drugs, violence, corruption, and the sex trade. Vulture Peak focuses on the black market world of trafficking in human organs, and Sonchai's investigations involve him in a massive global conspiracy that provides human organs by any means necessary for those rich enough to pay.
The plot synopsis sounds sordid and grim. While Burdett certainly provides enough of the disturbing details of human degradation, this novel (like Burdett's others) demonstrates levels of meaning, thought, and even humor that the reader would not expect. In particular, Burdett infuses his novels with strong currents of Buddhist philosophy and ethics. The novel Vulture Peak in particular has subtle levels of meaning that repay the reader willing to reread the novel and to consider the deeper themes.
The novel's title on the most literal level comes from the name of the lavish estate at the top of a mountain. Many of the novel's most gruesome events take place at the estate, especially the harvesting of human organs, so the vulture image, with its images of scavenging, is appropriate. However, anyone with a background in Buddhism recognizes the allusion to the Heart Sutra. John Burdett's elusive response to my question about his title led me to explore that level of significance.
The Heart Sutra challenges the Western concept of existence and identity, showing that the concepts and ideas that lead us to a sense of self and existence are delusions based on flawed perceptions. In Buddhism, the concept of the self is composed of the Skhandhas: Form (matter), Sensation (feeling), Perception (conception), Mental Formations (impulses), and Consciousness (discernment). the Heart Sutra demonstrates that all of these aggregates of energy are constantly flowing and changing. Thus, the concept of the Self as a constant is a delusion based on mere appearances and faulty assumptions. That delusion causes most of the world's suffering, as is explained in the Four Noble Truths.
Burdett's novel demonstrates in a powerful and often disturbing way the truth of those delusions about the nature of existence. One of the most basic ways in which we believe ourselves to exist is based on our physical appearance. We identify ourselves with our bodies, and the component parts thereof. In a novel about the trafficking of human organs, that delusion is quickly shattered, and, like a mirror, its shattering destroys the image of self. Sonchai is investigating instances in which bodies (some of which have been murdered for this explicit purpose) are taken apart like jigsaw puzzles, and the parts (livers, corneas, hearts, and even genitals and faces) are removed to be sold. The scenes in which the organs are removed and displayed are especially disturbing, perhaps because of our strong associations of body parts with identity. That association is probably especially true in the case of genitals and faces. The surgically removed genital references in the novel are understandably disturbing.
Perhaps the most disturbing scene in the novel (at least for me) occurs toward the end of the novel. A character named Manu has been horribly mutilated to the extent of not having a face. He has been promised a transplant in return for his gruesome services (this part of the book recalls the movie Frankenstein and the character Igor for me). In this scene in Burdett's novel, Manu is trying on surgically removed faces like masks. Chan, one of the characters, says, "'He's learned that without a face, he doesn't exist." As Manu tries on different faces, he attempts to take on the identity of the former owner, including the face of woman, and he "pirouettes and poises coquettishly." This grotesque and surreal scene demonstrates the delusion of existence from a Buddhist perspective. the scene recalls a Zen Koan "What is your true face?" And of course the answer is that one does not have a true face because one does not have a true identity.
A related theme in the novel, which is related to the search for identity, is the search for happiness. That secondary theme is portrayed most vividly by Dorothy, an emotionally and sexually repressed Western (Farang) woman who is directing Sonchai's wife Chanya's master's thesis about the women involved in the sex trade. When Linda is explaining her search for happiness, Chanya explains that, as a Buddhist, she doesn't think that way. Linda then calls the Western "pursuit of happiness" (quoting the Declaration of Independence) as "A kind of Godot thing right at the center of the American mind." Of course, since the Self does not existence except as a flowing interwoven stream of Skhandhas, happiness is also an illusion.
The search for identity and the quest for happiness are central concepts in the Western mindset. John Burdett's novel Vulture Peak weaves a convoluted and interesting plot around characters as they explore those themes. While John Burdett is a master at writing the "Whodunit," his novels go far beyond mere detective fiction and become philosophical meditations on ontology and epistemology. Like everything else is the world, his novels are not always what they seem.