Customer Reviews: Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep)
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on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For me, John Burdett's Bangkok novels are a guilty pleasure comparable to being a chocoholic. Amazon reviewers of Vulture Peak seem to me to be very judicious in their assessments of the weaknesses and off-putting, over-the-top, bizarre, lubricious and ghoulish elements of the plot and style. But... Just one more caramel-loaded candy and I promise to stop.

So, while admitting the flaws, I review why you may want to try out Burdett if you are unfamiliar with his sagas. They are narrated by Sonchai, a young Buddhist cop in Bangkok with a mix of attitude, fatalism and cynicism as he navigates through a swamp of vice and sado-anything violence. He is the son of a good natured and respectable prostitute now turned bar/brothel owner and sort of married to an ex-prostitute who is finishing off her Phd thesis. His transgender deputy is awaiting the operation and his boss is a police chief who runs most of the drug trade and protection rackets in a rivalry with a General who has his own clandestine operations -- and troops.

In Vulture Peak, the emerging racket is kidnapping for body part transfers. The shady figures behind the business and the murders by disembowelment plus face removal that X is assigned to solve include twin sisters, ladies of a decidedly psychotic nature that would attract the admiration of Hannibal Lechter. There's a Shanghai cop who is bipolar to the nth degree of manic and a cagey Hong Kong cop plus Dorothy and Om and Manu, none of whom would be described as normal.

What makes the books work for me is that they never fall into campiness, caricature or cartoon exaggeration. They have a sense of realism, no matter how unreal the situation. Burdett writes with irony and elegance, downplaying the violence in a sort of Buddhist fatalism; everything is calm and lucidly laid out. I personally dislike horror novels and films but somehow the gruesome nature of the story is laconically kept at a distance. It is all definitely weird but in a surprisingly reasonable way/

In his personal interviews and the stories themselves, Burdett makes clear his respect and sympathy for the many prostitutes, bar girls and madams who swirl through the scene. They have made a sensible choice about how to make a living, don't view sex as sin but a routine, and in many instances are primarily committed to helping out their families. In the same way, the transgenders - often cops - are ordinary in their aspirations and just going along with the flow. The bad people are bad mainly because of greed but the "deviants" are ordinary and going with the flows of Bangkok life, some of them good, some bad and varying in their eccentricities. Burdett is quite skilled in getting you to take them as they are and he draws you into their frame of reference. He can be funny and perceptively sharp, especially in knocking the Westerners who are obsessed with sex and sin, in a rush, looking for meaning and purpose, and judgmental.

It's all fun and shrewd. The plotting gets convincingly convoluted. The style is workmanlike with frequent neat observations. It's candy for the mind, but well above average in quality of story, characterization and pacing. It's out of the ordinary in every way and captures and keeps the reader's attention (well, mine, anyway). I recommend it as well worth trying - you may find it surprisingly tasty.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This series has a surreal setting and an intriguing detective. Sonchai Jitpleechee is honest and pure of heart, a Thai Buddhist on the Path. At the same time, he smokes dope when reality gets overwhelming, and he loves (but does not hire) prostitutes (his mother was one). His wife is an ex-prostitute turned academic. And his boss is thoroughly corrupt, a master criminal who makes use of Sonchai's drive to fight crime.

I read some earlier Sonchai mysteries, but drifted away from them recently. The author's graphic scenes and bitter ironies are not for the faint of heart, of which I may be one.

Vulture Peak is full of body parts. While the beautiful women and boys of Thailand are selling their bodies to tourists in every bar, a fabulous mansion on a hill overlooking Phuket becomes the scene of a gruesome triple-homicide involving missing body parts. Sonchai's boss, Colonel Vikam, puts him on the case - which quickly expands to an all-out campaign against international organ trafficking.

I liked the author's flashes of sympathy for the outré behavior of transvestites and their psychological struggles surrounding "the operation."

I liked the scenes involved cynical American consultants crafting a political campaign for Colonel Vikam, who is suddenly and inexplicably running for mayor of Bangkok.

And I have to admit John Burdett has a gift for creating bizarre characters: the sadistic twin female organ traders, the crazed ex-soldier with a missing face, the bipolar cop bent on martyrdom...

Burdett has invented his own unique mix of warped humor, brutal satire, manic plotting and unorthodox social and spiritual lessons. The roller coaster ride left me queasy. But hardcore fans of detective Sonchai know the drill, and should enjoy Vulture Peak.
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on September 17, 2013
Having moved from the US to Asia I'm devouring as many fiction books as I can that are set in this fascinating continent. Vulture Peak sounds like a good dark novel but it fails to deliver. The characters are poorly developed and I didn't feel strongly towards any of them, the dialogues between characters felt very unrealistic and unnatural. You got the impression the author had reached for the thesaurus so as to throw in some unnecessary verbosity to make his characters seem clever. I couldn't really picture the settings despite traveling to Bangkok and the opportunity to deliver a story "in five countries" was lost because no attempt was made in the storyline to make those locations stand out physically or culturally. I like dark stories, such as the organ-trading movie Dirty Pretty Things [HD], but this book wasn't dark at all. The idea of this book is great, but it just doesn't deliver the excitement it should have. There are no surprises, no shocks and nothing surreal at all.
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on August 10, 2016
This is third book of this series that I've read, primarily because Sonchai is such an intriguing character. He's an intelligent man with deep spiritual beliefs who has to navigate the vagaries of criminal behavior in a deeply corrupt law enforcement system. He constantly has to make comprises and live with realities he far from comfortable with, but he does his job well and earns respect as a result. These books illustrate that life is messy and the best we can do is to act based our better selves when we can and hope for the best when we can't.
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on November 11, 2015
I like John Burdett's novels very much. I have never been to Thailand but I get a clear sense that he has! His characters are engaging and unique, showing a very dark side of Thailand, (corruption, violence, exploitation, prostitution, etc.) , but also kindness, non-attachment and spirituality. I love that juxtaposition! This is not my favorite of the series, but I like the characters and the series and I'm also looking forward to the next novel, that I just noticed has been released!
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VINE VOICEon January 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have read John Burdett's series set in Thailand and featuring a very different policeman, Sonchai Jitplecheep. He is half Thai, half GI. His mother is a former prostitute and bar owner, and he is supervised by a very corrupt Colonel, Vikorn. The last novel dealt with large scale drug traffic, and expanded the settings to Tibet and China. In addition to Timothy Halloran, I would recommend the similar books by Christopher Moore. Burdett strains the reader's credulity, with identical twin sociopathic but beautiful Chinese women who enjoy unusual uses for body parts and high stakes gambling. But, unlike some reviewers,I enjoyed the occasional digressions into a rather elevated discussion of the significance of prostitution in an economy which is funded by farang (foreign) middle aged men who engage in various sexual practices not approved in their home land. Sonchai is a devout Buddhist who struggles with his demons, but is a persistent and sympathetic observer. If you like mysteries with an exotic setting, this may be your cup of tea. It is not necessary to have read the prior books in the series but the last one, Godfather of Katmandu, gives a different slant on Tibet.
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on August 1, 2015
I really enjoy the John Burdett Thai series. This was my least favorite. It was too convoluted. The subject matter is a worldwide concern and therefore interesting. Each book focuses on a relevant issue. His writing is informative and witty. I like reading about mystery, Thailand and the concept of Buddhism.
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on July 12, 2014
I've read all of the Sonchai Jitplejeep mysteries and they are so close to my heart (in this case, quite literally - Vulture Peak is about the body part black market). I spent 8 months in Bangkok and, when I long for a little bit of Asia, this is where I go. John Burdett must have a little Thai blood in him, it's so finely ingrained in his characters. He's literally managed to inhabit the body of his detective, who is alternately brilliant and sentimental, pulling at my heartstrings while solving some horrifically brutal crimes. The best of both worlds, I think.
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on March 18, 2015
I have just finished all five of the series by John Burdett on the Buddhist policeman in Bangkok. The themes in all the books has been about the underside of Southeast Asia...drugs, pornography, the sex trade, corruption. This one deals with the international organ trade. The subject matter was a "little rough" for me which why I undoubtedly gave it 4 stars. On the other hand, it is a subject worth exploring. The exploitation of individuals by others is a constant theme in this book. Sad, but true. The author does a really thorough job of connecting the dots in this unregulated business. Start with book one, and read them through to the end. They are fast reads.
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on December 7, 2013
John Burdett does a wonderful job intermingling the sleaze of a corrupt Bangkok with the fragile integrity of an intensely spiritual Buddhist cop. Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a great protagonist, insider to the corrupt police force, supplementing his income with his mom's brothel, and yet an outsider so beyond corruption that all the politically tricky cases come to him. He solves them with insights born from deep meditation on Buddhist precepts. Add a touch of ganja and local superstition and you've got the case pretty well wrapped.
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