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  • TITLE: Bangkok 8
  • AUTHOR: John Burdett

    Here's the mystery:


    “You're saying she's a prostitute?”

    “What's the likelihood she's not?”

    “She's a suspect?”

    “She's a possible accomplice. No woman acting alone could organize something like that . . . How does anyone drug a full-size python and twenty cobras and get them to bite the right guy at the right moment?”

    --Vintage Books, ISBN 1400032903, PB trade edition, c.2003, p.69


    Sound exotic? Outrageous? Wait ‘til you meet this perp who's “a combination of Pol Pot, Father Christmas and a Hindu death goddess, all in one” (p.299).

    The title, Bangkok 8 denotes a district in “the very essence of Krung Thep [Bangkok], its heart and its armpit” (p.61) where corruption flows everywhere from bottom to top, drugs like yaa baa —methamphetamine—are on every corner, and prostitution lights the streets like neon signage. Sonchai Jitpleecheep—a physical product of a Thai bar whore and a long-departed Vietnam War G.I., and the moral result of devout Buddhism—is a straight cop in this “lusty, clawing city” (p.101). Within the first chapter, his partner and long-time friend gets killed as an introduction to this case, which develops as an outlandish if not heinous tour of entrenched Eastern culture as it's influenced if not infected by the West. It is as foreign to the whitebread, American experience as, say, Middle Earth, yet there is an eerie tinge of un-impetuous vaticination lurking through the pages. Although there are cast shadows from Chandler, Spillane, and even the X-Files, the plot remains clinched to its extravagant settings, sordid conditions, and excessive personalities.

    This is the entry into a running series by John Burdett that's up to three in number, adding Bangkok Tattoo and Bangkok Haunts. While this might not be the most satisfactory plot puzzler, it is mandatory reading for the insightful shift of values that adds depth to the gaudy and bawdy atmospherics. While one of the American characters “spends his whole life looking in a mirror” (p.150),


    There will be a massive shift of power from West to East . . . caused not by war or economics but by a subtle alteration in consciousness. The new age of biotechnology will require a highly developed intuition which operates outside of logic, and anyway the internal destruction of Western society will have reached such a pass that most . . . resources will be concentrated on managing loonies. There will be . . . people fleeing from supermarkets and pressing their hands to their heads, unable to take the banality anymore.



    If you think this is absurd and highly unlikely, go ahead and add a new, distinctive ringtone to your cellphone. It's a “logical labyrinth with no meaningful outcome. Logic as distraction [italics mine]” (p.161). But Buddhism, which fully inscribes Thai civilization, is intuition-based and non-mechanistic, balancing its turpitudes not in the marketplace but in lifespan after lifespan seeking karmic harmony. There is no morality to money and machines, merely rules and order. For a Buddhist, to seek personal identity with the proliferation of objects is about as dumb as “to look for nirvana in someone's crotch” (p.84).

    This is an engaging and intoxicating mystery while offering a different yet important perspective on “American capitalism. It's a great system, except that no one ever has enough” (p.96).


    © copyright 08/15/2008 by Larry Crawford

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