Vice spins the wheels of this third gritty procedural following Bangkok 8 (2003) and Bangkok Tattoo (2005) and featuring Buddhist Thai policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheep.
It begins with bangs and whimpers as Sonchai and his sometime associate, FBI agent Kimberley Jones, react emotionally as they view a snuff film that appears to record a notorious prostitute’s murder. The dead woman (Damrong) was Sonchai’s former lover—a fact that compromises and energizes the investigation that permits Burdett to conduct another mordant whirlwind tour of Bangkok’s darkest places as well as the even seamier environs of the Internet. The story, narrated in Sonchai’s urbane weary voice, is filled with intriguing nuggets of Buddhist wisdom and custom (e.g., “color-coding” for dress appropriate to specific days of the week) and graced by brief but telling appearances of such recurring characters as Sonchai’s Myrna Loy–like wife Chanya, his amoral entrepreneur mother Nong and his superior officer Colonel Vikorn (a meth addict whose ratiocinative powers remain blessedly unclouded). Assisted by his transsexual partner Lek, and a convicted cinematographer (“Yammy”) whose price for providing inside blue-movie info is the right to make “artistic” porn films (i.e., with plots), Sonchai labors to ignore the ghosts of his own self-indulgent past while pursuing a comic-operatic gallery of suspects: Damrong’s former husband (and pimp?) Daniel Baker; low-life–loving prosperous businessman Khun Tanakan; tireless porn stud Stanislaus Kowlovski; and Damrong’s brother Gamon, a priest whose path to righteousness may have been financed by his big sister’s illicit earnings. The trail leads to Cambodia, the history of Damrong’s wretched family and a savage exercise in investigative technique known as “the elephant game.” The plot sputters, but Burdett holds our attention throughout a breezy tale reminiscent of the late, great Ross Thomas’s byzantine Asian-inflected capers.
Not for your Agatha Christie–loving maiden aunt, but good grisly fun for those who like their noir rated NC-17.