October 28, 2004

Bangkok 8

Bangkok 8
John Burdett


(October 28, 2004)

A fascinating experiment. The narrator, Detective Jitpleecheep of Bangkok's 8th precinct, is the only honest cop left on the force after his partner is killed investigating a bizarre drug slaying. He's the son of a successful bargirl, he takes his Buddhism seriously, and the attractive young woman the FBI sends as his case liason takes him very seriously, too.

It's easy to read this fascinating mystery as an extended meditation on Buddhism in a modern context. I think its Buddhism also can be seen as a metaphor for the constraints of genre; the soul's struggle to transcend desire reflects the writer's quest to transcend Mystery. Both, perhaps, are futile; in a past life, this novel was a potboiler. This novel seems simple but isn't, and Burdett gracefully navigates a minefield of pitfalls to craft an array of entirely fresh and completely believable characters. The detective's relationship with his mother -- and with her customers who introduced him to Parisian fashion and American luxury -- is superb.

The only blemish on this fine book is Burdett's solution to seeing that the bad end badly, which avoids predictable cynicism but is just a little too neat.