As spicy as a four-pepper pot of Pad Thai, BANGKOK 8 whetted our palates for a second course. Author John Burdett serves it up in BANGKOK TATTOO with asbestos mitts, brim filled with culturally diverse, eclectic and exciting characters. His Buddhist monk cum Bangkok police detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, is the singularly most complex and exotic police detective to be found in current noir detective fiction.
In his first highly acclaimed novel we are introduced to Sonchai, a troubled young detective under the tutelage of Police Colonel Vikorn, head of Bangkok's notorious Precinct 8. Sonchai is the half-breed son of a vanished American GI and one of Bangkok's most successful concubines. Now retired, she has the connections needed to allow her son entré to what she hopes will be a life away from the bitter streets of the Red Light district.
These hopes are upended due to his familiarity with the business end of Bangkok's seamy sexual underworld. His Buddhist monastic training has rendered him incorruptible, but his upbringing has left him unblinkingly aware of the dark hazards that can befall those who ply the trade.
In BANGKOK TATTOO he becomes inextricably entangled in a plot that involves the FBI, CIA, Muslim clerics, Al Qaeda operatives, and ghoulish figures of the Thai underworld. It seems that the love of his life, the beautiful Chanya, is a chief suspect in the grisly murder of a CIA agent, found dead in her room. Sonchai follows a trail of evidence that burrows into a feud between the Thai military, upper echelon police and international terrorist groups. Mere suicide bombings pale against the toll of the highly lucrative drug and sex trade, as always at the root of the strife.
Burdett creates a vivid sense of place and offers a cast of colorful villains and anti-heroes that favorably compare to the worlds of James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly. His writing is literary in style, reflective and philosophical in nature, yet filled with action and suspense often delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Bring on the third course, Mr. Burdett. We're ready with a six-pack of Singha beer in the cooler.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010