Click here to read reviewer Camden Alexander's take on Bangkok Haunts.
Returning with the third installment (Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo) of Buddhist Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep’s attempts to bring order to the chaos of criminal enterprise in Bangkok, Burdett flexes his considerable literary muscle on the lucrative world of pornography - in this case, a snuff film with a very twisted ending.
The virtually incorruptible Jitpleecheep has finally come face to face with one of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man when his former lover, Damrong, stars in a video that ends with her death: “What monsters are we creating?”
To the uninitiated, Bangkok presents a different reality, a country driven by enterprise without the banal rationalization of Western mentality. Sonchai views the world as an exercise of “functional barbarism”: greased by advanced technology, our motives are barbaric, driven entirely by greed.
It is this greed that stimulates the growth of the porn industry. Sonchai begins his investigation in a murky world peopled by the criminals and by-products of opportunity, aided in his endeavors by FBI agent Kimberley Jones. Although he enjoys an ambiguous relationship with Jones, Sonchai is married to Chancy, a pregnant ex-prostitute (Bangkok Tattoo), and inclined to remain faithful. In any case, Agent Jones becomes involved in a flirtation with the kite world, ultimately facing the angst and disappointment of misplaced passion.
The past remains obdurate, even as the old makes way for the new in a technologically advanced society. Ancestry has its own demands, as does an ancient belief in the ghost world, the dead crowding out the living. The forensic pathologist assigned to Daring’s autopsy spends her off-hours filming the antics of this ghost world, a fact Dr. Sumatra and Sonchai hasten to obfuscate before the disbelieving eyes of Agent Jones.
Once more, Jitpleecheep is forced to ask for the aid of the corrupt Colonel Viktor, the chief of Section 8. Always willing to help if there is an opportunity for profit, Viktor is instrumental in Sondheim’s eventual confrontation with the true evils of the world of snuff films, the denizens of that underworld, and the attention of a monk of questionable motives.
Along with the mystery, Bangkok is suffused with the usual cultural anomalies: Sondheim’s part ownership in the Old Man’s Club to supplement his income; the changing bar scene, all-nude dancers replacing the tease of strippers; and the city’s eager acceptance of the deviant pornography industry. The disturbing snuff film is literally at risk; Jitpleecheep must personally deliver the disk to Jones to avoid an opportunistic bureaucrat’s detour to copy and sell it on the Internet.
Burdett once again captures the essence of Bangkok, corruption balanced with survival: “For the poor, birth is the primary disaster.” While the world of commerce rolls on independent of conscience, the incorruptible Jitpleecheep refuses to surrender. In the words of the elusive monk, Gamon, “Love is the foundation of human consciousness…It’s our constant betrayal of it that makes us crazy.” (Note: Do not miss the shocking Appendix.)