The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis Book review: ‘Bangkok Haunts’ Bangkok Fiction by John Burdett

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 10•13

BurdettBangkokHauntsBangkok Haunts (2007, ISBN 9780-5930-5544-1) is the third in writer John Burdett’s Detective Sonchai series, in which Sonchai, a colorful character in the Bangkok Fiction genre,  attempts to get to the bottom of the death of an ex-lover, with other-worldly implications. Burdett’s protagonist, a Royal Thai Police detective operating in Bangkok’s District 8, offers up the tale in a first-person narrative, and his life is an amalgam of the crazy world that makes the city so compelling. His mother runs a nightlife bar, and Sonchai operates as a sometime-manager (prostitution, incidentally, is illegal in Thailand). Lek, Sonchai’s police assistant, is a man undergoing gender reassignment. We here at WoWasis appreciate the verisimilitude: It’s common knowledge that Bangkok police are heavily involved in the bar-girl industry. All clubs make payoffs to keep under the legal radar, and one police family-owned bar we know of was actually able to keep the lights on during a recent power outage that covered the entire block. It pays to know people on high (and low) places.

The tale here involves the investigation of a snuff film, and touches on the relationships among a powerful Thai business leader who operates above the law, the police, an international crime syndicate, a non-traditional monk with Cambodian Khmer Rouge links, and the FBI. Sonchai’s insistence on solving the crime is accelerated by the fact that he had a personal relationship with the murdered woman. Burdett introduces the reader to the Thai concept of gatdanyu, ( กตัญญู ) which holds those who have received favors to a lifelong responsibility to protect the interests of those bestowing the favors. Aside from being a riveting, well-written book, Burdett’s references to widely-seen but little-discussed aspects of Bangkok life, including aroma inhalers, motorcycle taxi jackets, and the ancient “elephant game” execution motif add fascinating elements to the story that will please those interested in Thai cultural elements.

From our perspective, the ending requires a suspension of skeptical, atheistic, and free-thought beliefs, and will appeal more to faith-based readers, those who believe in ghosts (virtually the entire Thai population), and Theravada Buddhists. Overall, Burdett’s a cerebral writer that his done his homework. His acknowledgements include a number of important books he cites that cover Thai politics and culture. This is a terrific crime novel that neatly wraps up another Thai saying, som nam naa (สมน้ำน่า  serves you right!).

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  1. Thanks, error corrected…

  2. Dude says:

    Sonchai’s police assistant is named Lek.

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