East and West coexist in a murderous symbiosis in this exotic thriller by British author (and Hong Kong resident) Burdett (The Last Six Million Seconds, 1997, etc.).
This tangled tale of drugs, sex, and political corruption is narrated by Krung Tep (i.e., Bangkok) detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a “half-caste Third World cop who speaks English and French,” has a criminal past, and still does the local drug of choice (“yaa baa”). Burdett kickstarts the tale with a dynamite opening sequence: the discovery of black US Marine William Bradley’s dead body in his Mercedes, filled with seemingly drug-crazed cobras and a giant python wrapped amorously around the torso of the deceased. Sonchai’s investigation, done in tandem with American authorities, and abetted and complicated by gorgeous FBI agent Kimberley Jones, takes us through the meanest and seamiest streets of District 8 (Sonchai’s turf), and introduces us to a beguiling gallery of sinister personages portrayed with black-comic brio. The principals include a beautiful black woman whose relationship to Bradley isn’t initially clear; Sonchai’s pragmatic mother Nong, a retired “bar girl” interested in the commercial potential of Viagra; his crafty boss Colonel Vikorn, who’s a little too cozy with CIA ops in Thailand and abroad; jade mogul (and connoisseur of Bangkok’s thriving sex industry) Sylvester Warren; and a fast-talking transsexual with a sure survival instinct. A Russian nuclear physicist turned pimp, “Barbara Hutton’s jadeite wedding necklace,” and an educational visit to a crocodile farm keep the reader alert—even when Sonchai’s summary descriptions of Bangkok’s history, culture, and economic priorities lapse into exposition and background information clumsily grafted onto the story. Burdett is more successful with Sonchai’s frequent citations of Buddhist wisdom: they’re funny, endearing (and informative) building blocks in the creation of an unusual and interesting protagonist.
Enjoyable, mostly, with a savage payoff and a smoky, acidic aftertaste.