John Burdett's latest novel, Bangkok 8 is a hardboiled thriller. The story takes place in Bangkok, and Burdett's description of the area is more than cosmetic. His talent as a writer lets readers feel like they have actually have been to Bangkok, or like they are actually in Bangkok while they read the book. The way he makes the city come alive is impressive.
Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his partner Pichai are hired to follow American Marine Jonathan Bradley through the streets of Bangkok. Bradley and an exotic woman known as Fatima lead the detectives to a road under a bridge. There the detectives find is Fatima missing and a carful of drugged snakes attacking Bradley. The attack leaves Bradley and Pichai dead. Regardless of the law, Sonchai will not rest until he avenges the death of his partner and soul brother. The FBI become involved in the case and assign agent Kimberly Jones to work with Sonchai on his quest for answers.
Burdett leads readers to believe that two businesses thrive in Bangkok: prostitution and marijuana, or yaa baa as it is called overseas. Burdett tells multiple stories as he and his new partner try to piece together the mystery of Bradley's murder. Another aspect is that we see what it was like for Sonchai growing up in Bangkok. He is the son of an American soldier and a prostitute; his mother was a professional in the trade, a smart woman who did what she had to do to make a living, to survive. Most Thai women begin to sell their bodies at a young age. It is just a fact of life.
In this city, cops take bribes from businesses that sell pot or rent women out of second-story whorehouses. It is the way the country works -- except for Sonchai. He has never accepted money in exchange for protection or to look the other way. He is, perhaps, the last good cop. This does not come off as trite in the novel; Buddhism is Sonchai's center, and he is a focused and practiced believer. It defines who he is as a character. Even more so, it defines the actions that direct him toward solving the murder of Bradley and Pichai.
Sonchai and Jones are exact opposites in the ways they solve crimes. One relies on wit and intuition; the other relies on utilizing the skills learned from extensive training. They bicker and banter back and forth, trapped in an obvious love-hate relationship. They make a good team, especially while working in a Bangkok setting. Perhaps a second novel might be as compelling, having Sonchai work with Jones on a case that takes place in the United States.
Fast and intriguing, Bangkok 8 is what noir mystery thrillers are all about. Burdett's characters are strongly developed -- his villains are evil, his heroes brave. Great dialogue and informative narration keep the plot moving, the scenes crisp and the tension pulsating. Bangkok 8 is a true page-turner.