When the only two cops in Bangkok not on the take arrive at the murder scene of an African American Marine sergeant killed by a methamphetamine-stoked python and a swarm of stoned cobras, one cop is killed. It is up to the remaining cop, Sonchai Jitpleecheep to find the murderer.
An American Marine sergeant has been killed in a bizarre plot involving a multitude of snakes hopped up on methamphetamine and a huge python that comes close to swallowing the victim's head. When Sonchai's partner, a fellow Buddhist whom he considers to be his true soul mate, is killed during the initial investigation of the crime, Sonchai swears to personally avenge his friend's death. John Burdett's surrealistic version of 21st century Bangkok, though, is not that simple.
Sonchai's investigation leads him deeply inside the city's booming sex trade, a world in which Western men of all ages and means flock to Bangkok by the thousands to purchase the sexual expertise of young Thai women (many of whom, sadly, are mere children). The American FBI, as a matter of course, is involved in the investigation but things begin to get complicated when a famous American millionaire is implicated in the murder along with a mysterious Thai giantess who is much more complicated than she first appears.
"Bangkok 8" presents the city, and Thai culture, in such strange lights that the trust of many readers will be severely tested. But the book's ending is so bizarre (no other description quite fits this ending) that even readers happy to go along for the ride to that point might find themselves shaking their heads in frustration. This is not so much a "who dunnit" as it is a "why they dunnit" and, while there is much of interest in "Bangkok 8," the novel is unlikely to satisfy detective fiction fans who prefer their detectives to work in more realistic settings.
I found this to be a good book but not a spectacular one. The characters were interesting, but I never really engaged with them. Some the character dynamics also felt like they could have been fleshed out a bit more. I got some sense of how these people related to one another, but I never really felt it.
The plot, however, is nice and complex, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, (or too confused for words; it could go either way). I found that the mystery was set out in such a way that I could see it unfold just as Sonchai did: intuitively rather than factually. It made for a different sort of mystery, and a pretty good one at that.
But what really sets this book apart is the focus on the Thai mindset. The story is steeped in Thai culture. Burdett paints a vivid picture of a society completely unlike anything westerners are used to. The justice system operates under different rules. The morality is complex and often surprising. And, most importantly, the boundaries between the living and the dead are much less rigid. There's a lot of emphasis here on Buddhist ideas, especially those regarding reincarnation. It makes for fascinating reading.
I'd definitely recommend this to mystery fans with a fondness for the speculative.
I don't want to speculate on how the author did his research into the various elements that make us this book - I hope it wasn't all done in person - but he does an amazing job of weaving in commentary on Thai culture in a direct but not heavy-handed way. For example, the detective listens to a popular Thai radio call-in show whose discussions are relevant to the bizarre case he is working on. To provide more details would just lessen your enjoyment of the story. Just dive in; don't even read the description on the back cover.
The explanations of Bangkok and buddhism and whorehouses and drug trade is really impressionable. It doesn't exactly paint any of them in a good light necessarily, but it makes you feel like you've visited the secret parts of Bangkok--the parts the tourists don't usually get to see.
Having spent some time in Manila, I began getting strangely nostaligic and wistful for the kind of dirty, odd, very non-American-like values in a large Asian city like that. And then in comes Kimberly Jones, the American FBI agent, who you suddenly want to impress, admire and ask to leave and mind her own business all at the same time.
Having read the Bangkok books somewhat out of order (I read this one AFTER Bangkok Tattoo) I may be somewhat off in saying that I preferred Tattoo and Bagkok Haunts more than this one. But all the same, I liked it. It's dirty, gritty, rough and satisfying. I imagine, a lot like Bangkok. Just like a crime noir ought to be.
It has interesting details of prostitution as a lifestyle, or, more accurately, as THE lifestyle and the underlying crime is solved in a very weird way.
It's actually quite engaging but it's also a lot like a socialist investigation of poverty and prostitution... with perhaps a bit too much of the latter.
The characters are interesting, especially Sonchai, who is no ordinary detective, but rather an arhat; he runs his life through meditating on the Buddha and lives his life based on compassion.He is in contact with his former selves from previous lives and he speaks to ghosts. He became a policeman after having been involved in a murder and then sent to a monastery to learn the ways of Buddhism. The author has offered up a fresh concept here in the way one thinks about detectives.
From the first few pages it is difficult NOT to get hooked...the author brings the reader down into the underbelly of Bangkok and draws the reader into a mystery so convoluted and twisty that it's hard not to keep reading.
Very good book; I highly recommend it for those who like a good mystery and to those who enjoy books set in Thailand.
It's a book that's hard to put down, and holds you enthralled right up to the end.
I'm not sure when I first became aware of this book - the first of a series - but I finally made the decision to read it. A great choice. It is fascinating. The whole East vs West theme is central - the results that occur when Eastern mysticism collides with Western capitalism are evident everywhere in the Bangkok of this book. Sonchai is a conflicted character, and there is still much to learn about him. His mother, the retired whore, is fabulous - a delightful character. And his colonel, nothing more than a gangster in uniform, is surprisingly likable. I enjoyed it very much.
The facts of the case are not especially remarkable on the surface. An American Marine who has bungled an attempt to join an international criminal syndicate is murdered in exotic style. All our detective's instincts and all the evidence point to a powerful, well-connected jade and jewelry dealer whom Sonchai feels he must kill to avenge the death of his partner. However, enter Fatima, the extremely sensual, beautiful result of a modern-day Pygmalion project - gone horribly wrong - and the heavy's demise is taken off our hero's hands. Or is it?
Something else that distinguishes this intriguing piece from other mystery stories is the bifurcation of our detective's personality: Fatima is really Sonchnai's alter ego, his living, breathing dark side, who takes it upon herself to deliver a brutal justice in her own way. All along, we have the ethereal, not-quite-concrete meditations on Buddha, karma, and the irreconcilable conflict between Western and Eastern morality. Along the way we have the detective's delightful entrepreneur mother, the crooked police commander Sonchai nonetheless loves, and communication with the detective's dead partner, whom he describes as his soul brother. And the master-stroke which turns the tables karmically correct is orchestrated by a holy and far-off Buddhist monk.
Read "Bangkok 8," and be transported by remarkable language and gritty similitude to another country, another morality, another state of mind. Recommended unreservedly.
The murder mystery genre is not one that I usually enjoy, but I couldn't resist the setting--Thailand. Unfortunately, the setting was not enough to really hook me and consisted of what I (in stereotypical fashion, which apparently exists for a reason) imagined a white author writing about the underbelly of the "exotic Orient" would focus on: the sex trade. And it's not that I'm a prude about such things. Instead, it was just that this book contained so much of what I expected that I was, well, kind of bored by it. Everything meant to shock failed: interrogating an erotic performance artist while she shoots darts out of her va-jay-jay, a murder committed by locking the victim in a car full of cobras (cobras who have been hopped up on meth, by the way), the details of a sex change operation, a sadomasochist who comes to Thailand to indulge his darker fantasies, a sex starved blonde FBI agent who just can't keep her hands of Sonchai. Yawn. All of this is fairly predictable and the mystery itself has such a ridiculously laughable denouement that I couldn't feel satisfied with the ending.
However, despite its faults, I can't honestly say that I didn't like it. The chapters were short and there were some interesting glimpses into Buddhist thinking (however, I do question how accurate they are) and the Thai response to sex and prostitution as a means of empowering women. I'm sure there are better fictional sources for learning about contemporary Thai culture and, for that reason, I won't be continuing with the other books in the series.