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[635] Bangkok Eight – John Burdett

1eight

Read and reviewed: Hong Kong

Farangs don’t understand us Thais. They think if a girl sells her body, then she has no dignity, no limits. Actually, the opposite is often the truth. Women like your mother are very free spirits. Could you imagine Nong ever holding down a normal job? Or putting up with abuse from a man? A woman might sell her body because it’s more dignified and safer than being married to a violent drunk who goes whoring without protection. ” (Ch.27, p.149)

The Buddha taught that karma is the cosmic law by which every cause has an effect, and all our actions have consequences that can last many lifetimes. Karma invokes the concept of individual responsibility of past and present actions, and it is a major theme in this mystery thriller. The novel takes place in Bangkok, and the city becomes its own character. Burdett’s vividly evocative prose depicts the surreal city’s confluence between the old world and the new. Contradictions exist at every aspect of city life. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in the city, but it exists side by side with one of the most famous sex trades in the world.

You have to remember we’re Buddhist. Compassion is an obligation, even if corruption is inevitable. (Ch.17, p.89)

Sonchai, a police detective in District 8, refuses to take up bribery. He’s an anomaly as corruption is rampant within the police force. He has an uneasy relationship with his devout Buddhism. He firmly believes in values of compassion and impermanence, but after his partner/colleague dies from a particularly nasty snake bite at the beginning of the book—in which an American black serviceman was killed by drug-crazed snakes in a locked Mercedes—he accepts as a matter of course that he will avenge his soul-brother’s death.

The totally desperate but gifted second-stringer, the order-follower who will do anything for money is doing just that. The symbiosis only began with jade. It went on to something quite different. (Ch.39, p.295)

Sonchai and FBI agent Kimberley Jones investigate the death of Bill Bradley, a private and accomplished soldier, with an uncanny eye for beauty—in both woman and jade. He’s also involved with a sadomasochist jeweler who comes to Thailand to indulge his darker fantasies. But at the center of the murder conspiracy is some half-dark Thai who had sex reassignment. The elements meant for shock are somewhat predictable, and culminate in a ridiculously laughable denouement.

That said, Burdett’s evocation of the story through Sonchai’s unique and wry perspective lends a freshness to the proceedings. He’s a microcosm of bangkok itself, constantly split between its strong Buddhist tradition and its equally strong ties to Western capitalism.

431 pp. Corgi Books UK. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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