John Burdett

Bangkok Haunts [Alfred A. Knopf]

Books Reviews John Burdett
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John Burdett

Myth, blood ritual in digital universe

First-person is a magic act most authors can’t work, employing faux heroes who snap lines like bullwhips

and don’t have a fragile, indecisive cell in their manly beings. John Burdett’s Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is, by contrast, as complex—and as conflicted—as his culture; from the seamy streets of Bangkok, weird sex capital of the world, to the Buddha-green countryside; from the transplanted American brand-malls to the elliptical shantytowns.

It’s all sacred, even the profane, an exotic maze Sonchai navigates as he trails the killer of his once-beloved Damrong, a country girl who became a big-city whore before being snuffed most brutally on a video. His journey is like 4-D Siamese chess, shifting through time and space, embroidering kin and crime, greed and regret, simple pleasure and profound evil.

Sonchai—and Burdett—have Thailand down in their corpuscles, in all its filth, elegance, corruption and sanctity. Bangkok Haunts is a dreamy, dirty, remarkably nuanced book, a jewel half-buried in sordid earth, yet still aglitter.