Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Short on Bang

Bangkok 8

by John Burdett

Published by Vintage

3 Out of 5 Stars

Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is the son of a Bangkok prostitute (insert your own inappropriate joke regarding the juxtaposition of the words "Bangkok" and "prostitute" here) and a U. S. soldier. As a result, Sonchai is able to walk in both cultures, but belong to neither, and to understand the differences between the farang (a term used for foreigners) and the Thai mindset. He's also a devout Buddhist, which prevents him from taking part in the openly corrupt practices of the Thai police force. He knows far more about his mother's sex life than anyone should (probably "your mom" jokes have no affect on him since his mom has probably serviced everyone he knows) and is fixated on Western high fashion (to the point he can see a woman's shirt and tell which collection and season it's from). Clearly, he's a complex guy. And now, after the death of his partner, he's seeking karmic revenge against the person responsible for the murder. If he gets high on yaa-baa (meth) along the way and pole dances in a strip club, then so be it. Karma's a bitch, but even it must yield when Tina Turner's Simply the Best comes on the jukebox and demands a pole grind.

The murder mystery genre is not one that I usually enjoy, but I couldn't resist the setting--Thailand. Unfortunately, the setting was not enough to really hook me and consisted of what I (in stereotypical fashion, which apparently exists for a reason) imagined a white author writing about the underbelly of the "exotic Orient" would focus on: the sex trade. And it's not that I'm a prude about such things. Instead, it was just that this book contained so much of what I expected that I was, well, kind of bored by it. Everything meant to shock failed: interrogating an erotic performance artist while she shoots darts out of her va-jay-jay, a murder committed by locking the victim in a car full of cobras (cobras who have been hopped up on meth, by the way), the details of a sex change operation, a sadomasochist who comes to Thailand to indulge his darker fantasies, a sex starved blonde FBI agent who just can't keep her hands of Sonchai. Yawn. All of this is fairly predictable and the mystery itself has such a ridiculously laughable denouement that I couldn't feel satisfied with the ending.

However, despite its faults, I can't honestly say that I didn't like it. The chapters were short and there were some interesting glimpses into Buddhist thinking (however, I do question how accurate they are) and the Thai response to sex and prostitution as a means of empowering women. I'm sure there are better fictional sources for learning about contemporary Thai culture and, for that reason, I won't be continuing with the other books in the series.

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