12 April, 2018

REVIEW: BANGKOK 8 by John Burdett

Title: Bangkok 8
Author: John Burdett
Series: Sonchai Jitpleecheep 1
Genres: Mystery, Crime, Thriller
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard
Release: July 13th 2004
Source: eBook
Pages: 375

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A thriller with attitude to spare, Bangkok 8 is a sexy, razor-edged, often darkly hilarious novel set in one of the world’s most exotic cities.

Witnessed by a throng of gaping spectators, a charismatic Marine sergeant is murdered under a Bangkok bridge inside a bolted-shut Mercedes Benz. Among the witnesses are the only two cops in the city not on the take, but within moments one is murdered and his partner, Sonchai Jitpleecheep—a devout Buddhist and the son of a Thai bar girl and a long-gone Vietnam War G.I.—is hell-bent on wreaking revenge. On a vigilante mission to capture his partner’s murderer, Sonchai is begrudgingly paired with a beautiful FBI agent named Jones and captures her heart in the process. In a city fueled by illicit drugs and infinite corruption, prostitution and priceless art, Sonchai’s quest for vengeance takes him into a world much more sinister than he could have ever imagined.

EXPECTATIONS: I expected night life, almost yakuza-like gangsters, drugs, women, and some kick-ass buddhist cop. That wasn't exactly what I got. And that's just amazing, really, because this was the most unexpected and unique thriller that I have ever read through my life as a reader!

THE WORLD: Thailand, the Third World exotics, occultism, and religion. Corruption runs the streets, and everyone's grateful for it. Instead of paying insurance, you pay the cops, and since government doesn't pay them - everyone wins. Girl bars on every corner. Bars with upstairs, and massages with happy endings. While economy improving usually means less prostitution to most countries, here it would rather mean more of it. It's simple work, good money, and then there's the thrill of the lottery: is this the one? will this one take me overseas? will this one take me out of this job forever? It almost feels like these women get empowered by having the right to their bodies, and the right to earn their money any way they can. Then there's those Thai cops. All Thai cops go through schooling of buddhism, making them familiar with death and what happens after, thus, hopefully, making them choose the right things when time comes. Basically, fatalism is in the air. Your body is for sale, destruction is always at the hand's reach, cheap, but you live, you smile, and you believe it'll get better. 

CHARACTERS: Sonchai and his soul brother are likely the only cops in the whole city that aren't corrupt. It was their karma, and they're taking it seriously. The only way they won't get reborn as some foul things is if they live now, as cops, and not take any bribes. It's not really that hard, even if they do constantly live in poverty. Sonchai lives in a hovel that has no windows, no chairs, no more than a bed, and some room to hang clothes on. He didn't even have a phone until FBI partners required him to be more reachable. And it was fine. What broke him was his soul brother's death, something he should've taken better as a buddhist. They were called to investigate a traffic jam of some sort, just to find a bolted car, with a raving giant of a man, a former USA marine, full of drugged, raging snakes that were killing him, and trying to consume him. His partner tried to save the man, just to die with him instead, leaving Sonchai alone, sworn for revenge, something even Buddha has to forgive when such a delicate matter of heart is at hand, and working with FBI, who have no legal rights to investigate here, really. Detective Jones is trying to partner with him, but that's not easy for her, for Thai way is not the western way, by a long shot. Yet they manage, all the while teaching one another of how things run, Sonchai going as far as explaining her how past lives influence the current ones. They come upon many a string, all seemingly leading to this goddess-like woman, half black, half Thai, gorgeous, perfect, and so unlikely a killer. Yet, no one really knows her. It's as if she just appeared, with no past, no records.

ROMANCE: Detective Jones is attracted to Sonchai, and while he has some mild feelings for her too, he's too careful to allow anything to happen. For the bigger part of the book I, much like her, thought he's just gay, but it's more likely that he doesn't care about the gender, but rather the consequences a relationship might bring. So the only romance in this book is the dead one, and the wanted one.

GOOD: The characters felt very natural, very human. No one's cruel for the sake of cruelty in Thailand, not a real Thai, no. Not unless they're completely and utterly broken, and that pain finally drives them off the cliff. I thought that an interesting way to portray the killer. In general, the killer was a very interesting being, and I was amazed to read their story. Sonchai too was amazing. When he was hurting, I was hurting, and that's not something that happens with me and the books. This boy raised by prostitutes, because his mother was working every night, this boy who learned how to dance for his keep too, this boy who grew up to not judge anyone, and be kind to everyone, was something I didn't expect to find in no thriller, no detective. I liked Jones a lot too. Now that's a fine written woman, strong, with her own opinion, with her own actions. I'm glad of her choices at the end of the book, since it means she'll be around for the next ones too.

BAD: It starts very abruptly, and I had troubles figuring out what's going on. But that's really all.

OVERALL: "As third world said to the first: if it feels so bad, why do you do it?" - I'm happy. This book taught me so much by merely showing how compassionate human beings could be, even if they're merely fictional. It's a very unique thriller book, and I thought I'm not into thrillers, to be honest! Sexualising of Thailand seems fairly common and I usually really dislike it, due to my belief that one shouldn't ever put a whole country into a singular frame, especially one made out of personal fetish, but this didn't feel like "nothing but gangster-cops and prostitute-wives". It felt like people shrugging off their poor fate by lifting themselves above it, and taking it as it comes: a means to survive and see a better tomorrow. The detective line was easy to follow, but wasn't predictable. At least I didn't manage to figure it out fully. Partially - yes, but that's all.

What do you think about BANGKOK 8



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