A thriller with attitude to spare, Bangkok 8 is a sexy, razor-edged, often darkly hilarious novel set in one of the world’s most exotic cities.
Witnessed by a throng of gaping spectators, a charismatic Marine sergeant is murdered under a Bangkok bridge inside a bolted-shut Mercedes Benz. Among the witnesses are the only two cops in the city not on the take, but within moments one is murdered and his partner, Sonchai Jitpleecheep—a devout Buddhist and the son of a Thai bar girl and a long-gone Vietnam War G.I.—is hell-bent on wreaking revenge. On a vigilante mission to capture his partner’s murderer, Sonchai is begrudgingly paired with a beautiful FBI agent named Jones and captures her heart in the process. In a city fueled by illicit drugs and infinite corruption, prostitution and priceless art, Sonchai’s quest for vengeance takes him into a world much more sinister than he could have ever imagined.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Part mystery, part thriller and part exploration of Thai attitudes toward sex, this accomplished first novel by Burdett (A Personal History of Thirst; The Last Six Million Seconds) delivers both entertainment and depth. The narrator, a Buddhist cop named Sonchai Jitplecheep, finds himself plunged into a dangerous investigation of the deaths by snakebite of his partner Pichai Apiradee and U.S. Embassy Sgt. William Bradley. Sonchai is an unusual character on several levels, from the mysteries of his violent past to his conversations with the ghost of Pichai. His ambiguous feelings toward Kimberley Jones, an American FBI agent brought in to work the case, reflect his upbringing as the child of a Thai mother and an unknown American father. Above all else, however, Sonchai's Buddhism permeates the text. An encounter with an embassy official, for example, leads to this unexpected reverie: "[She] is blithely unaware that she once accompanied me across a courtyard of startlingly similar dimensions, thousands of years ago." As Sonchai's investigation brings him closer to Bradley's companion, a woman known as Fatima, and the rich American jade dealer Sylvester Warren, his quest for revenge becomes muddied by the strangeness of his discoveries. The mix of detective work, Bangkok street life, the Thai sex trade and drug smuggling forms a powerful melange of images and insight. Despite an anti-climactic last chapter, the novel's structure is solid. Sonchai's fatalism, wry humor and dogged determination-his ability to be both vulnerable and strong-make him one of the more memorable characters in recent novel-length fiction. Readers expecting a traditional mystery structure would be advised to look elsewhere, but those who want something new will find Burdett's novel an intriguing, fresh take on noir. (June 10) Forecast: Knopf may be taking a bit of a gamble on this genre-bending effort-a 100,000-copy first printing is planned-but strong reviews and a flashy jacket should help get sales off to a good start. Random House Audio. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
The African American marine in the gray Mercedes will soon die of bites from Naja siamensis, but we don't know that yet, Pichai and I (the future is impenetrable, says the Buddha). We are one car behind him at the toll for the expressway from the airport to the city and this is the closest we've been for more than three hours. I watch and admire as a huge black hand with a heavy gold signet ring on the index finger extends from the window, a hundred-baht note clipped stylishly between the pinkie and what our fortune tellers call the finger of the sun. The masked woman in the booth takes the note, hands him the change and nods in recognition at something he says to her, probably in very bad Thai. I tell Pichai that only a certain kind of American farang attempts conversation with toll booth operators. Pichai grunts and slides down in his seat for a nap. Survey after survey has shown sleep to be my people's favorite hobby.
"He's picked someone up, a girl," I mutter casually, as if this were not a shocking piece of news and clear proof of our incompetence. Pichai opens one eye, then the other, raises himself and stretches his neck just as the Mercedes hatchback races away like a thoroughbred.
"Green and orange streaks in her hair. Afro style. Black top with straps. Very dark."
"I bet you know who designed the black top?"
"It's a fake Armani. At least, Armani was the first to come out with the black semi--tank top with bootlace straps, there have been plenty of imitators since."
Pichai shakes his head. "You really know your threads. He must have picked her up at the airport, when we lost him for that half hour."
I say nothing as Pichai, my soul brother and partner in indolence, returns to his slumbers. Perhaps he is not sleeping, perhaps he is meditating. He is one of those who have had enough of the world. His disgust has driven him to ordain and he has named me as the one who, along with his mother, will shave his head and eyebrows, which honor will permit us to fly to one of the Buddha heavens by clinging to his saffron robes at the moment of death. You see how entrenched is cronyism in our ancient culture.
In truth there is something mesmeric about the black marine's head-and-shoulder set which has consumed all my attention. At the beginning of the surveillance I watched him get out of his car at a gas station: he is a perfectly formed giant and this perfection has fascinated me for three hours, as if he were some kind of black Buddha, the Perfect Man, of whom the rest of us are merely scale models with ugly flaws. Now that I have finally noticed her, his whore looks erotically fragile beside him, as if he might crush her inadvertently like a grape against the palate, to her eternal and ecstatic gratitude (you see why I am not suitable for monkhood).