Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a member of the Royal Thai Police force, is perhaps the only Bangkok cop not on the take in one of the most corrupt police departments in Southeast Asia. The Buddhist monk son of an infamous Thai madam and a Vietnam-era American soldier is detective fiction’s most complex cop, as enigmatic and exotic as his nearly unpronounceable name. We john met the multicultural Sonchai in BANGKOK 8 and BANGKOK TATTOO, John Burdett’s two bestselling novels that so vibrantly bring to life one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating cultures.
In this third installment, Sonchai has settled down in domestic happiness with his pregnant girlfriend in his modest Bangkok apartment. He finds on his doorstep a hand-addressed package. In it is a snuff porn film starring Damrong, a well-known prostitute who once worked in his mother’s Cowboy District brothel, with whom he had carried on a brief dalliance. When he checks on her whereabouts, he discovers she is missing and comes to the realization that the killing was not an act --- the murder portrayed in the film was genuine and performed live in front of the cameras.
Damrong’s ghost begins to haunt Sonchai’s dreams as he launches an investigation into the identity of the film’s producers. Over the objections of his superior, General Vikorn, he calls on his FBI colleague, American Kimberley Jones, for help after he learns that she is in Thailand following a lead on the growing number of snuff films being produced in the increasingly lucrative Southeast Asian sex trade. Together they hunt down the highly placed officials and businessmen at the top of a billion-dollar porn industry.
Sonchai’s relationship with General Vikorn, who is the epitome of elegant corruption with a penchant for exquisite art collections and high living, is a study in Sonchai’s ability to adapt his stringent Buddhist faith and its karmic effects to the harsh realities of crime fighting.
BANGKOK HAUNTS is the darkest of the three novels, which all provide a fascinating portrayal of modern life in Thailand. The clash between East and West is nowhere more deftly portrayed than by Burdett, whose longtime residency in this multicultural society provides him with the background for vivid authenticity in his literate portrayal of its people. The reader is treated to a splendid, intricately plotted thriller replete with the sounds, smells, cuisine and fascinating examination of Buddhism that is at the core of everyday Thai life.
Newly arrived among the venerable handful of literary detective mystery writers, such as James Lee Burke, P.D. James and Elizabeth George, John Burdett continues to satisfy with a series character who grows with each page-turning novel.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010