Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett

Title: Bangkok Haunts
Author: John Burdett
ISBN: 978-0-593-05544-1, Bantam Press, 2007
Genre: Police Procedural, #3 Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery
Rating: C

First Line: Few crimes make us fear for the evolution of our species.

To read John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep mysteries is to immerse yourself in the culture and mindset of Thailand. Westerners are not always understood or appreciated there, but if you're thick-skinned enough to withstand a bit of cultural bashing, you will be paid back in some marvelous reading.

Sonchai is a police detective in Bangkok. Now living happily with Chanya, a former prostitute who's pregnant with his child, Sonchai at one time had had a passionate affair with a Cambodian beauty named Damrong. When he comes across a copy of a snuff film in which Damrong is murdered, he joins with American FBI agent Kimberley Jones to find the killer. While Sonchai's superior, Colonel Vikorn, has his detective set up a porn film business, the list of suspects in Damrong's murder grows to include a banker, a teacher, a Buddhist, and an exclusive men's club called the Parthenon.

Once again-- as with the previous two books in the series-- I was immersed in the culture of Thailand, which is fascinating and so different from my own. I have to admit that one of the reasons why I enjoy these books so much is because I have the chance to see my own culture through the eyes of others.

I enjoyed the convoluted plot, the further machinations of the wily Colonel Vikorn, and the glimpse across the border into Cambodia. Ultimately, however, the book fell flat for me because of the murder victim, Damrong. I felt only great indifference toward her, which really dampened my enjoyment of the book.

Although this book wasn't exactly my cup of tea, your mileage could definitely vary-- and the first two books in the series, Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo are both superb. The fourth book in the series, The Godfather of Kathmandu, will be released in January, 2010, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

There are many mystery series based in other countries. Usually the setting only serves to provide a whiff of the exotic, without nudging the reader fully into another culture. John Burdett's Thailand not only provides an exotic setting, the reader is dragged out of his comfortable chair and out into the streets of Bangkok-- out into a world where the people have different customs, a different religion, and an entirely different way of seeing the world. John Burdett takes the reader out of his comfort zone and makes him think about more than just whodunit, and I like that.

[Source: Paperback Swap.]


  1. Really interesting reading suggestion. I haven't read it, but I have to wonder, in how many murder victims do we actually invest our emotions? I can think of a number of Michael Connelly's that deflect the reader from the victim to the detective or to the family of the victim - in this case do we feel for Damrong's former lover, our protagonist?

    I am definitely checking out this series, as I love to be stretched!


  2. Thanks for this suggestion, Cathy - I enjoy mysteries that show different cultures and really let the reader in, so to speak. And, as you say, it's especially interesting "to see ourselves as others see us." I'm not familiar with Burdett, but perhaps I ought to check him out.

  3. Oh - I blogged about you at MysteryWritingIsMurder today. This book was a great suggestion so I spread it around...


  4. Michele-- In this case, I thought Sonchai (the protag) was a very misguided male, but normally when the victim isn't very sympathetic, our emotions do become invested in the other characters. And thank you for mentioning me over at MWIM!

    Margot K-- I hope you do give Burdett and Sonchai a try. Excellent mysteries and enlightening on several levels.


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