BANGKOK TATTOO by John Burdett


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Another wacky, wild-side traipse through Thailand’s fleshpots, eateries and spiritual havens, with the marvelously peculiar half-American, half-Thai Buddhist police detective.

Burdett’s sequel to Bangkok 8 (2003) begins with a wonderful opening line, “Killing customers just isn’t good for business.” The speaker is Det. Sonchai Jitpleecheep’s mother Nong, who is disappointed that the Chanya, the irresistibly beautiful top-wage earner in the popular brothel, the Old Man’s Club, seems to have castrated, flayed and murdered an opium-addled American, CIA Agent Mitch Turner. Sonchai’s superior (and co-owner of the brothel), Colonel Vikorn, has a plan: blame it on al-Qaida. This doesn’t sit well with a bunch of moderate Muslims, whose imam may have converted Turner to Islam. A pair of clueless CIA agents sent to investigate are more concerned with finding Turner’s missing laptop, until one falls in love with Sonchai’s mother and another, after a fling with a different Old Man’s Club prostitute, is murdered in an identical fashion. Then there’s Colonel Vikorn’s rival, the dope-smuggling Army General Zinna, who doesn’t want additional CIA spies to interfere with his plan to remove peasants from ancestral farmlands, all in order to make way for a Japanese eucalyptus plantation and disposable-chopsticks manufacturing plant. Stepping lightly between so many comically conflicted interests, Sonchai must also cope with a new partner, Lek, who can’t quite decide if he should continue with police work or get a sex-change operation to become a “katoey” dancer. Burdett is gleefully entertaining as he uses Sonchai’s Buddhist pragmatism to explore his exotically varied setting—the murders have something to do with a diabolically ingenious tattoo artist hiding in Bangkok from spiritual and criminal demons. But he lets Sonchai’s infatuation for the infinitely talented Chanya turn the story into a clever but tiring post-9/11 analysis of how American moralists like the bright, brawny but doomed Mitch Turner (and, by implication, his counterparts among the Muslim fundamentalists) can be so wrong when they’re sure they’re right.

Baroquely complicated, and a bit too preachy but, otherwise, a wry, wise and wonderful romp.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-4045-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2005


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