The best novel I read this year, almost,
This review is from: Bangkok 8: A Novel (Paperback)Bangkok 8 has everything you could want from a detective story. It features an exotic local, a fascinating protagonist and an interesting vehicle with which to compare Thai and American culture.
The story centers around Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitplecheep who, with his partner Pichai, has been assigned the task of tailing a U.S. marine. The marine is found dead and crawling with poisonous snakes. In the process of dealing with the snakes, Pichai is killed and Sonchai now has to find out who did it so he can get his revenge. The investigation will give us a tour of Thailand's booming sex industry and lead us to a rich and influential American gem merchant.
John Burdett has been compared favorably with Martin Cruz Smith, which is high praise indeed. Smith's Arkady Renko is considered the archetype for this type of foreign police detective and if you've read Gorky Park you will see similarities with Bangkok 8. Both stories take you inside a foreign culture and show you a side of law enforcement most Americans never see. Both stories also provide an interesting view of American culture as seen by an outsider.
As with many good books, what works in Bangkok 8 highlights what doesn't. At times it is evident Burdette isn't showing us the thoughts and feelings of Thai people as much as he's giving us his interpretation of these thoughts and feelings. Also, the American characters are portrayed as one-dimensional. I know part of this is the point, Americans seem dull to the Thai, but I think he could have developed the female FBI Agent who works with Sonchai a little better. She has the hots for him and immediately abandons western logic to adopt his eastern intuitive style of investigation. I think a more realistic approach would be for both of them to make contributions to the investigation based on the strengths of the systems they employ.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will look forward to reading it's sequel within the next year.