Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
Series: Sonchai Jitpleecheep #2
Published by Random House Audio on April 26, 2005
Length: 11 hrs 26 mins
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Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police returns in his riveting and smokily atmospheric new thriller.A farang–a foreigner–has been murdered, his body horribly mutilated, at the Bangkok brothel co-owned by Sonchai’s mother and his boss. The dead man was a CIA agent. To make matters worse, the apparent culprit is sweet-natured Chanya, the brothel’s top earner and a woman whom the devoutly Buddhist sleuth has loved for several lifetimes. How can Sonchai solve this crime without sending Chanya to prison? How can he engage in a cover-up without endangering his karma? And how will he ever get to the bottom of a case whose interested parties include American spooks, Muslim fundamentalists, and gangsters from three countries?
I did not like Bangkok Tattoo as much as the first in the series, Bangkok 8. Sonchai is the same- a loner Buddhist cop who tends toward philosophical ruminations, but now he’s also part owner of a brothel, along with his boss and his mom. The atmosphere’s the same- the seedy side of an exotic city, but we do have the addition of Muslims and the mob. And Sonchai has a new partner, a transgender young man who wants to be a dancer of some kind.
The plot was interesting, if a bit meandering. The killed man was CIA, and of course the case is not as clear-cut as it might first appear. There’s also drugs involved. To be honest, I finished listening to this a week or so ago and don’t remember how exactly the drugs and the serial killer tied together. I think they were two separate plot lines pulled together by the corrupt superior and the good-hearted prostitute. What I do remember is one scene toward the end that was downright gruesome.
Most of this book centers around the sex trade in Bangkok. Burdett shows it as empowering for women, giving them money and freedom that they wouldn’t otherwise have. I have to assume it’s not that rosy. It also dwells on the lives and gay men and other sexual orientations.
I listened to the audio version and the narrator did a good job. He catches Sonchai’s attitudes well, when he is lecturing, when he is amused, and when he’s introspective. He differentiates the other characters well and as always I appreciate hearing the foreign names and places, rather than stumbling over them in print.
I’ll probably continue with the series, but only because I can pick them up from the library.
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
Narrator: B. D. Wong
Series: Sonchai Jitpleecheep #1
Published by Random House Audio on June 3, 2003
Length: 12 hrs 17 mins
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Electrifying, darkly comic, razor-edged—a thriller unlike any other.
Under a Bangkok bridge, inside a bolted-shut Mercedes: a murder by snake—a charismatic African American Marine sergeant killed by a methamphetamine-stoked python and a swarm of stoned cobras.
Two cops—the only two in the city not on the take—arrive too late. Minutes later, only one is alive: Sonchai Jitpleecheep—a devout Buddhist, equally versed in the sacred and the profane—son of a long-gone Vietnam War G.I. and a Thai bar girl whose subsequent international clientele contributed richly to Sonchai’s sophistication.
Now, his partner dead, Sonchai is doubly compelled to find the murderer, to maneuver through the world he knows all to well—illicit drugs, prostitution, infinite corruption—and into a realm he has never before encountered: the moneyed underbelly of the city, where desire rules and the human body is no less custom-designable than a raw hunk of jade. And where Sonchai tracks the killer—and a predator of an even more sinister variety.
Bangkok 8 has been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally got around to picking up the audio from the library. Let’s be honest, it was an obvious choice for me. It’s a mystery in an exotic locale and the detective has a philosophical streak.
The murder itself was unique – the snakes in a locked car- and although it’s a shame that Sonchai’s partner was killed too, it was the only reason the crime was actually investigated thoroughly. The cops in Bangkok are mostly corrupt and add in that the US government would really rather at least one of the suspects not be looked at too closely, they likely would have let it drop. Sonchai can’t though and his search for the truth leads us across the city and has us meet drug dealers, prostitutes, and business owners from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of vices and interests.
Sonchai is a complicated man. He’s the son of a prostitute and American soldier, but he’s traveled the world, is fluent in multiple languages, including English, loves quality clothing and perfumes. He spouts Buddhist philosophy and can be encouraged to dance on-stage. He’s not my favorite of detectives, but I do love his contradictions.
I got caught up in the book. The culture and religion, the characters, the justifications of prostitution and for cops taking bribes – it’s a different world than I live in. I don’t know how well it actually represents the Thai people or Buddhism, but I was engrossed. Even the ending worked. People have so many sides, good and bad, but they are more who they are than in lots of European/American settings. They are more open and are allowed to be both pimps and lovers of literature, cop and part-owner of a brothel. Secrets are more open, and even the ones that people try to keep hidden have been caught on video.
I’m looking forward to listening to the next in the series. I liked listening to the audio; it always works well for me when in print I would stumble over the names of places and people, or just glance over them.