Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
A thriller with attitude to spare, 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.

317 pages, Paperback

First published August 6, 2003

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

John Burdett

36 books446 followers
John Burdett is a novelist and former lawyer. He was born in England and worked in Hong Kong; he now lives in Thailand and France.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,277 (22%)
4 stars
4,352 (42%)
3 stars
2,669 (26%)
2 stars
729 (7%)
1 star
227 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,169 reviews
1 review2 followers
December 20, 2014

The author (or should I say a cheap salesman/opportunist he claims himself to be?) talks as if he knew it all about Thailand and its way of living or thinking.

If you want a glimpse to the real Thai, this is not the book you're looking for.

Before I get to the part when I express my deep hatred for the book, I feel more than delighted to point out certain false facts that Burdett includes in Bangkok 8.

Disclaimer: I'm Thai and was born into a Buddhist family. Below is the explaintaion from my immediate knowledge of my own culture and religious, which is intended to be clear of any patriotic or egocentric comments. (I rather dare say that I might even be sacarstic about my own country. I was raised and educated in a very Westernized society after all.) Any ambiguity caused by confusing and inadequate English skills is totally on me. My mother tounge is Thai. You can simply ask me if anything is unclear to you.

1. Arhat
The Real term is Arhant, of which the closet pronunciation I could provide you with is "Or-ra-han" or "ɔː ra han." I'm not an expert with these phonetic symbols, though.

An Arhant is an ancient term used for monks who archieve the higest spiritual knowledge possible for typical monks to acquire when alive. (The higher form is Sodaban, which the Buddha was before he went into nirvana.) This concept of an Arhant is simply very outdated. Arhants live only in the era when the Buddha live as it is required that such noble people will be born only in the lifetime of the Budhha. No monk in this modern society context can archieve Arhant even if he spent his whole life meditating, let alone being an Arhant cop, the concept which totally fucked up my head. This is not from a Thai mindset, my friends, Burdett made this up on his own accord.

2. The nature of choosing between becoming a monk or a cop
Even if I give in to Burdett that, okay, you can have an Arhant in this era, it is still very unlikely for a Thai mindset to abandon your robe and become a cop. If you're really an Arhant, meaning that you're super religiouos, you'll remain a monk. We Thais are sabai-sabai (meaning we're chill at all times), so trust me any man in his right mind would not trade his monkhood for a lowly-paid cop work. How can one refuse the simplicity life consisting of all-day praying, relatively no work, full stomach, and respect from all hard-headed believers?

3. If you meet a ghost, you either pray the "Itipiso" prayer or "Pae Metta" prayer, not the "Four Noble Truths." And if you want to control your sexual urges, the last thing you do is to recite the "Eightfold Paths." This is complete bullshit. Burdett can have his facts checked by any air-head Thais but he did not. Why does this not surprise me?

4. The emphasis on the surname
The name "Sonshai" basically has no significant meaning, which is very weird, as in Thai context, the first name is what identifies a person as an individual. Burdett is very crafty in choosing the surname "Chit-plee-cheap" as it means "the mind that can sacrifice his own life." It sounds suitable for Burdett's "Arhat cop" but really? This is such a Western mindset in putting more emphasis on the surname. I'm well aware that certain family names in Thailand have their significances, for examples, those noble families whose surnames were given by the King or the member of the royal family. But let's face it. Sonchai's mother, Nong, is a whore who comes from Petchabun. How can her surname be given by the royal family or be as significant?

5. Looking into past lives
YOU JUST CAN'T DO THAT. WTH. Okay, okay, I know even among us Thais, there are still some people who believe in this concept. But if this supertitious talent can really be achieved, one can only has a peek into HIS own past lives. HIS OWN PAST LIVES. You cannot sneak into anybody else's. IS THAT CLEAR MR.BURDETT?

6. Possession of Warren's body/mind
This is not a cheap horror films where unfortunate someone is possessed by spirits. Where are we? In the Supernatural season 8? COME. ON. And how can Pichai, who is supposed to be an Arhat, get hold of Warren's body? If he's an Arhat, it's likely that he's on his way to nirvana. He wouldn't be hanging around playing homeless spirit. And Fatima? I don't understand this one bit (even though Burdett claims that only illogical Thais like me can understand the phenomena) If she's not dead yet, how can she, who should be in a spirit form, possess Warren? HOW?

7. The name of a Thai cigarett brand mentioned in the book should be spelled as "Krong Thip," not "Krung Thip" which Burdett tried to stylized it to be very close to "Krung Thep."

Other things that disturb me so much:

1. Burdett seems to claim that his fellow Westerners got bored of the red light districts after just a few visits but a whore like Sonchai's mother will never get bored of this flasgy lifestyle even after she has retired for years. Why so sexist, Burdett? I'm not even mentioning racism.

2. A protagonist with so much contradictions in himself? He's an Arhat but he's also a cop. He won't accpet bribe but he bribes others? A half-blood whose identity can't be settled even after 32 years living mostly in Thailand? He still has identity issue? Oh COME ON. And what is it about brandname clothing and perfume fetishes? It's creepy. And he fears that if he sleeps with Jones, he'll become a prostitute? And his deep love for Colonel Vikorn? What more is his obsession with Pichi, his SOUL BROTHER. COME. ON. There is no such concept in Thai context.

3. The way the characters always mention how Thai they are or how Thai they think.
Hmm. Do you Westerners pause in a middle of a conversation to reflect, "Ah, that's so Western of me!" Hmm. I doubt that.

4. The way the characters mention Buddha with everything.
"I'm sure Buddha approve of this."
"May Buddha bless him."
My ass. This sounds more like "May God bless him."
We Thais do not spek like this.

All in all, this book is extremly pretentious. Please read it with an open mind. Don't trust Burdett too much. He doesn't have the authority to write this book at all. In certain aspects, though, I admit that he's quite knowledgable. For example, he knows the steets in Thailand. Like what he talks about Soi Sukhumvit 33-39 is true. It really is a Japansese community. And the Supalai complex really is in Soi Sukhumvit 39, toward the end that connects with Petchaburi road. But COME ON specailazing in the streets of Bangkok doesn't grant him the authoirty to write as if he knows all about Thailand and Thainess.

I know some comments might be tainted with my hatred for this book and for Mr Burdett himself. I will be back to re-write this when I'm a bit less enraged.

But facts are facts. Burdett can't twist it whatever way he likes.

With my deepest sincerity.

A Thai
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
January 28, 2014
HERE COME THE THAILAND BOOKS! I read all the books in this series while I was in Thailand, and besides the last one, I LOVED them. There's nothing better than being in a foreign country and reading a book SET in that country to live the flavor of both worlds more fully.

This is a mystery series starring a Buddhist cop who is half white/half thai, the son of a Thai prostitute. The cast is full of dirty and corrupt people you kind of fall in love with. It's violent and graphic and edgy and just really really fun.

The first book has a great mystery with a HUGELY crazy payoff (a specialty of this author as you get into the series) and it's a page turner, so be warned.

It definitely starts out slow, and there are long parts of Buddhist philosophy that might make the average mystery reader impatient, but that's kind of WHY I liked it. I thought about things I'd never thought about before, because of the book. The whole issue of prostitution in this series is a HUGE part of it, and a bit offputting a bit, because it's couched in a way that it's "liberating" for a lot of these women. It's a controversial and debatable issue, but the world view of the book did make me think about the issue more than I ever have and that's cool, when a book can do that to you.

Highly recc this book and the next two in the series. Not sure if it was because I've been to/was in Thailand, maybe that enhanced my enjoyment. But I'd urge you to try it out, and maybe travel there yourself later ;)

Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews111 followers
July 22, 2014
Bangkok 8 reads like the bastard offspring of a yaa baa-fueled brainstorming session between James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, and a Buddhist monk gathered around a manual typewriter in a South Asian bar with slowly rotating ceiling fans in the late afternoon, about four hours before the impossibly beautiful whores (who may or may not be women) come out for karaoke and transaction.

Also, any book that features a male Thai Buddhist cop drunk and pole dancing to Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” within the first thirty pages gets my vote, no question.

The novel blends an intricate investigation of the murder (by python and cobra) of an American serviceman and a Thai policeman, although the killers were aiming only for the former victim, with detailed descriptions of a culture I can’t begin to comprehend. The cop’s partner, the child of a Thai prostitute/US soldier romance, wants revenge without demolishing his spiritual advancement by succumbing to the disarray of Western thinking and impulse. He understands the intricate unwritten code of the Bangkok streets and, unlike every other cop in the city, doesn’t take cash under the table. He isn’t against getting high and/or bending the official rules in pursuit of his goals. Add shady businessmen, corrupt law enforcement, ornate jade sculpture, conflicted FBI agents, and a bar catering to aging, Viagra-laden western retirees and you’ve got a smart action movie waiting to happen. No wonder James Ellroy praises the novel; this is his kind of thing. And if you’re into James Ellroy or writers cut from the same cloth, Bangkok 8 is probably for you, too.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
February 20, 2022
Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is the son of a Bangkok prostitute (insert your own inappropriate joke regarding the juxtaposition of the words "Bangkok" and "prostitute" here) and a U. S. soldier. As a result, Sonchai is able to walk in both cultures, but belong to neither, and to understand the differences between the farang (a term used for foreigners) and the Thai mindset. He's also a devout Buddhist, which prevents him from taking part in the openly corrupt practices of the Thai police force. He knows far more about his mother's sex life than anyone should (probably "your mom" jokes have no affect on him since his mom has probably serviced everyone he knows) and is fixated on Western high fashion (to the point he can see a woman's shirt and tell which collection and season it's from). Clearly, he's a complex guy. And now, after the death of his partner, he's seeking karmic revenge against the person responsible for the murder. If he gets high on yaa-baa (meth) along the way and pole dances in a strip club, then so be it. Karma's a bitch, but even it must yield when Tina Turner's Simply the Best comes on the jukebox and demands a pole grind.

The murder mystery genre is not one that I usually enjoy, but I couldn't resist the setting--Thailand. Unfortunately, the setting was not enough to really hook me and consisted of what I (in stereotypical fashion, which apparently exists for a reason) imagined a white author writing about the underbelly of the "exotic Orient" would focus on: the sex trade. And it's not that I'm a prude about such things. Instead, it was just that this book contained so much of what I expected that I was, well, kind of bored by it. Everything meant to shock failed: interrogating an erotic performance artist while she shoots darts out of her va-jay-jay, a murder committed by locking the victim in a car full of cobras (cobras who have been hopped up on meth, by the way), the details of a sex change operation, a sadomasochist who comes to Thailand to indulge his darker fantasies, a sex starved blonde FBI agent who just can't keep her hands off Sonchai. Yawn. All of this is fairly predictable and the mystery itself has such a ridiculously laughable denouement that I couldn't feel satisfied with the ending.

However, despite its faults, I can't honestly say that I didn't like it. The chapters were short and there were some interesting glimpses into Buddhist thinking (however, I do question how accurate they are) and the Thai response to sex and prostitution as a means of empowering women. I'm sure there are better fictional sources for learning about contemporary Thai culture and, for that reason, I won't be continuing with the other books in the series.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
54 reviews41 followers
July 11, 2013
Contains spoilers:

I couldn't take seriously for a second this book and its "only honest cop" (wherever) cliche. I lived in Bangkok for 3 years and Burdett's perceptions of Bangkok and the Thais are facile and sneering, laced with cultural chauvinism (the two often seem to go hand in hand), with caricatures rather than characters littering this book. Through the mouth of his protagonist, Burdett expresses pretentious opinions and thoughts you're more likely to find in a pub in Liverpool than on the streets of Bangkok. And when Burdett's protagnoist is not smoking pot, obsessing about clothes, doing the dirty work for his police chief/gangster boss, and subsequently becoming a part time pimp for his mother when she opens a brothel, the reader is also supposed to take seriously the idea that he's a Buddhist savant. One that, because he spent a few months meditating in a temple after murdering his drug dealer, has flashes of supernatural insight that allows him to see other people's past lives and this is supposed to make the reader believe that he's not just another underworld sleaze. The Buddha was very clear that some professions would bar one from obtaining Nirvana, and being a prostitute is one of them. So how is it that a supposedly honest cop, who punctuates his meditation sessions with marijuana, peddles in flesh and pornography, and barely goes through the motions of his police duties when not running his mother's brothel, is supposed to be a spiritualist? He's not an anti-hero, he's just a self-obsessed low-lifer, regardless of whatever spiritual trappings the dime-store novel level author attempts to clothe him in. Yes, I'm rather grouchy today.
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews135 followers
April 5, 2019
Sex, drugs and jade in the city of Bangkok.

The Thai police get most of their funds through graft and corruption in a most polite and efficient way. This story is an honest cop who is also a devout Buddhist.

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a detective assigned to the Bangkok 8 police district. Thirty two years after the Vietnam War he still wonders about his unknown western father. His mother is a Thai prostitute and proud of her working ability.

His partner dies in a grisly snake attack along with an American serviceman. Sonchai has the dreadful task of finding the real killer behind the hired killers while not breaking the FBI's unwritten rules of international policing.

Third world traffic jams,
Tropical heat,
Drugs for drivers,
Open extortion,
Slow moving government departments,
Over crowded jails,
Delicious food stalls,
Pirated software on open sale,
a night time crowd that never sleeps,
and all types of beautiful working girls.


Profile Image for Kristina.
259 reviews28 followers
August 16, 2020
This was one wild ride of a book with non-stop action & suspense from the first page and lots of twists to keep one guessing. One moment profane, the next reverent; one moment vicious and the next tender, it is graphic without being pornographic and violent without being gratuitous. The protagonist is one of the best characters I have encountered in a long time. And if the buzzwords snakes, jade, sex, spice, revenge, and dark humor don’t grab your attention, I’m not sure what will! This was a adrenaline fueled escape that was well-worth the time.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews765 followers
August 31, 2011
Couldn't finish this because the author's portrayal of Thai people, language and culture seems off to me. I would be interested to hear from another Thai speaking person who have read this book.
Profile Image for Suzy.
761 reviews244 followers
October 6, 2015
Sonchai Jitpleecheep is one of my favorite fictional detectives and Burdett's series featuring him are exotic and multi-layered romps through Thai culture, this one set mainly in the city of the title.

Sonchai is the son of a bar girl and an American G.I. What sets him apart from other cops in Bangkok is his worldliness and his dedication to being an "arhat", a Buddhist well on the path to enlightenment. He gained his worldliness from living abroad with some of his mother's liaisons; his time in Paris and in Berlin were especially affecting. His fashion sensibilities help him detect if someone's threads are a knock-off, and he can identify any perfume from just a whiff. Buddhism is at his core and his place on the path to enlightenment was furthered by a forced year in a monastery with his police partner and soulmate Pichai for a revenge killing. As an arhat he is not interested in participating in the corruption that's the basis of Thai culture, but the rules and boundaries of his purity are constantly evolving to suit the situation, which adds greatly to the fun of these books.

Looking at the words "romp" and "fun" might be somewhat misleading as these books are not for the faint of heart. Drugs, corruption, prostitution, and hard to read about crimes and heinous murders put this in the grim and gritty corner of the mystery genre. But the humor and dynamic culture of Bangkok and the interplay between the Thai cops and the Americans make this a great ride, especially between Sonchai and FBI agent Kimberly Jones. They're constantly at each other, trying to influence each other's beliefs. I especially loved a passage where Sonchai grills Jones on the 6 tenets of Buddhism and Jones grills Jitpleecheep on the 7 Dwarves.

This might have been a 5-star read if it weren't for occasional over-the-top, eye-rolling scenarios and a description of a medical procedure that went on for far too long, as if Burdett for some reason had to tell us every little detail he learned in his research.

I originally read this in print after hearing this spot on NPR in a series called Crime in the City. http://www.npr.org/2007/08/21/1376113... It features mysteries where the locale contributes greatly to the enjoyment. You could listen to whet your appetite for this book.

This time around I listened to Bangkok 8 and the narrator, Paul Boehmer, was outstanding. He is one of the best I've heard at voicing different characters - not just modifying his voice but giving you a feel for the person behind the voice.


Profile Image for Anushka.
54 reviews
January 11, 2021
This book manages to be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic AND have a bad mystery. Not to mention the author also includes my pet peeve of constantly describing what characters are wearing down to the specific brand names. I literally only finished this book for the sake of the mystery and even that was disappointing. I don't think I've given a book one star before, but I've never read something that hit all the specific things I loathe in a book. The smart cop who keeps desperately trying to sleep with the protagonist who is not interested in her? Check. The overly sexual description of women's bodies? Check. The weird way the author keeps pointing out the ethnicity of the characters for no reason at all? Check. Seriously I could go on and on about the things I did not like about this book, but I don't feel like re-living the process of having read this book
Profile Image for Brendan.
Author 9 books31 followers
November 1, 2016
We’re all exasperated with the police at one time or another. But in Bangkok, the pique is simply more acute.

“I used to buy whole trays of Rolex watches for police officers,” the city’s top sex tycoon complained to The New York Times recently. “I used to carry cash in black plastic bags for them. But they are still harassing me.”

In John Burdett’s thriller Bangkok 8, the half-Thai, half-American, all-Buddhist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep -- as dry and charming as a good martini -- explains the mores of this place the locals call Krung Thep:

“You must understand, the Royal Thai Police Force has always been way ahead of its time. It’s run like a modern industry, every cop is a profit center.”

Jitpleecheep’s good-natured defense of the corruption that surrounds his city’s thriving drug and sex trades is for the benefit of FBI agent Kimberley Jones (whom he likes to refer to as “the FBI,” as in “The FBI has a good figure . . .”).
Gun-loving and sexually frustrated, Jones is in Bangkok to 1) assist in Jitpleecheep’s investigation into the murder of an American marine whose car suddenly and mysteriously fills with venomous snakes; 2) provide an unlikely romantic interest for the hyper-meditative Jitplecheep; and 3) play the dumb Westerner, to whom Jitpleecheep can expound on the Asian way of doing things.

It’s a set-up that could go one of two ways: cheap or deep. Burdett threatens the former with sometimes-cartoonish cultural exaggerations -- Jones parading around in a T-shirt that reads, “So many men, so little time,” Jitpleecheep musing, “On the way to my own hovel I meditate on my penis.”
What redeems the periodic nonsense is the fact that Jitpleecheep is such a fascinating character. Although he has taken a religious pledge to refuse bribes, he is bent on revenging his beloved partner, Pichai, who was killed by a cobra at the scene of the crime. When his detective work takes him deep into Bangkok’s red light district, he considers anew his Thai mother’s participation in the oldest profession, the consequences of which turn out to be unexpectedly fortuitous. And he pushes her to finally reveal the identity of his father.

Burdett’s novel conjures a wonderfully complex and humane Bangkok, a Third World city as overwhelmed by its own corruption as by its many visitors seeking drugs and sex. But what makes Bangkok 8 such a wonderful read is Jitpleecheep’s nearly pitch-perfect narration. He is at once hilarious, poignant and Buddha-obsessed, a man not simply caught between two cultural worlds, but two metaphysical ones, as well:

“In meditation there is a point where the world literally collapses, providing a glimpse of the reality which lies behind. I am experiencing the collapse but not the salvation. The city falls and rebuilds itself over and over while I wait in the heat.”

Read my full review here: http://bit.ly/2exabYP
Profile Image for Ian Connel.
Author 1 book14 followers
December 29, 2014
Could not finish. Got to within 40 pages of the end and was so dissatisfied that I could not care less what happened with all of the TV/thriller cliche characters. The main character seemed wimpy and disaffected but somehow had the rage to pursue his partner's killer. The female protagonist, of the privileged white FBI beauty archetype, inexplicably gets enamored with aforementioned sad-faced Thai. They walk around the city to get evidence and see lots of prostitutes. Whores everywhere! Apparently in Thailand, there are three professions: corrupt cop, whore, and criminal. Some people are also cooks or monks, but everybody is a whore, crook, or cop.

Thailand should have been a fascinating setting, especially to a middle-American dork like myself, but the characters talked and often thought like western clods. Also each event in the book follows this pattern:

Talk about WHORES! Ask the WHORES for a lead. Buddhism thoughts. WHORES and crime, but corruption is a cute gray area. More WHORES! Buddhist pop-level reference. Thailand is like this: WHORES!

It really got repetitive. Then the book took a turn toward the ultra-cliche transsexuals and I nearly threw it out the window.
Profile Image for Hardcover Hearts.
196 reviews91 followers
March 31, 2008
I am so thoroughly amazed at this book. I had read interesting reviews about it, so when I saw this next to the next book (Bangkok Tattoo) at the Friends of the Library sale, I jumped on it.

Allow me to preface by saying that I love good crime noir book- one where the heroes are as flawed as some of the bad guys and things are gritty and the subject matter is dark. I also adore reading about other cultures where you are so enmeshed that it feels a little like culture shock when you turn the pages. And I also love a good Buddhist philosophy book. So now take all of those elements and mix them together!
Yeah- astounding.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,268 reviews411 followers
September 4, 2017
To tell the truth, I expected some piece of pulp fiction type with prose in the vein of Chandler or Hammett. Instead, it is much better than pulp and very different than those noir authors. I think the cover of this edition does it justice, as the night life of Bangkok has a decided influence. While the book doesn't take place entirely in the red light district, prostitution - more specifically, the life of prostitute - is very much this book. So, to, are drugs and drug trafficking.

While this is not what I would call noir, it definitely is dark. The cause of death is known from the beginning. The very first sentence tells us the victim will die from cobra venom, although you might need to be conversant with the Latin name of the snake to be sure. There are a few Thai words thrown in here and there also. It doesn't take long to figure out from context that farangs are Americans.

There is enough plot to satisfy those who need it - though no car chases. (There is much made of the traffic in Bangkok. I'm guessing there could never be a car chase in that city.) The characterizations are better than one might hope for in this genre, and the prose is superior.
I’m checking Jones’ face as we enter, thinking she’ll be surprised, because apart from the collection of women this is not like the home of a pimp at all. It is very untidy and a major contributor to the untidiness are the books. They are everywhere, on shelves on the walls, on the carpet, stacked up in corners, under the legs of collapsing armchairs.
Do not think there is much discussion of books, however. The pimp reference would be more in keeping with the tone of the novel. Lots of references to sex and the sex trade, but we are never invited to witness any. This is the seamier side of Bangkok and we are invited to witness that, police corruption (which may be somewhat exaggerated), and poverty. Still, there was some humor here and there to break it up. I won't be reading another immediately, but I would be happy to read more in this series and from this author. 4-stars, which is the highest I give in this genre.
Profile Image for Bill.
1,592 reviews75 followers
January 25, 2016
Excellent introduction to John Burdett's Sonchaii Jitpleecheep mysteries. Set in a very exotic locale of Bangkok Thailand with so many interesting things going on; great characters, I loved the relationship betw Sonchaii and the FBI agent. I kept wanting them to get together. One of the strangest murders I've ever read; so much interplay between cultures, the American, Thai, Buddhism, etc. Fascinating story. Loved it very much. I will read more.
Profile Image for Darrell Reimer.
138 reviews4 followers
April 1, 2014
The older I get, the more prone I am to borrowing from the library before I put down money for a book. I was especially hesitant to pick up John Burdett's Bangkok 8, fearing it would be the lurid and grotty sort of “Neon Noir” that British male authors seem to revel in: a cascade of depravity concluding with collapse. (James Ellroy, who writes the sort of novels I most dislike, calls this book, "The last, most compelling word in thrillers.") But the premise held appeal: a murder to solve, another to avenge, both leading deep inside the clandestine world of the illicit jade trade. Lo and behold, the local library had a copy. The price was right!

Around the 200 page mark is a scene that led me to three crucial realizations. It takes place in the back parlour of a bar owned by a Russian pimp. It is a wide-ranging conversation involving the Russian, the book's detective narrator and his American partner, and several of the Russian's bar-girls, and it is fueled by vodka. Here's a snippet, early in the game:

“Every Thai cop apart from Sonchai is a world-class businessman. You simply can't beat them. If I'm not careful they hire the girls, then fine me the price of the girl—for trafficking in women—less ten percent for my expenses. Not Sonchai,” says Iamskoy, about me. “He's an even worse businessman than me. That must be why I like him, he doesn't make me feel inferior.”

“I wondered,” I say, sipping more vodka.

“That and the fact that he's even more of a head case than me. You should have heard our last conversation. It was like Hindu science fiction. I guess he didn't enjoy it as much as I did, though, because he stayed away three years.”

“You passed out after insulting the Buddha.”

“I did? Why didn't you shoot me?”

“I didn't think you were alive.”

“Anyway, what did I say?”

“You said that Gautama Buddha was the greatest salesman in history.”

To Jones: “I was right. He was selling nothing.”

The group explores and debates the plasticity of identity — religious, national, cultural, individual, sexual, even gender — the various interlocutors monologing with greater passion as the scene builds. I was completely entranced, and realized: 1) I no longer cared if the narrator exacted his vow of vengeance, because I didn't want the book to end; 2) I hadn't read a scene of such compelling, plot-forwarding dialogue among a group of people since Dashiell Hammett or Robertson Davies, and 3) Hold on a sec: Robertson Davies?!

Yes, indeedy. Burdett is adept at playing with mystery, in every sense of the word, wreaking a subtle mischief on reader expectations. The chapters are short and easily consumed, but the sense of immersion they provide is exceedingly deep. I took frequent stops, to consider how a once-alien point-of-view had just been ingested as clear common sense. Burdett accomplishes that most valuable of novelistic achievements: making the foreign seem not just explicable, but familiar.

And now I must return this copy of the book to the library, while I wait for my copy to arrive in the mail — so that I can reread this fabulous book with a keener eye, and sharpened pencil.
Profile Image for Naeem.
384 reviews228 followers
September 7, 2007
The novel Platform got me interested in the cultural political economy of sexual tourism, sexual encounter, and the sex service industry.

Then I heard about John Burdett's 4 novels (3 are out, he is writing the 4th one) based in Bangkok. Each is a detective story. The main character is what I call a "mixo" -- thai mother, african-american father. His mother is a retried sex worker, and he is a non-currupt detective who following the 8 fold path of Buddhism. The setting and plot are set within the sex industry.

Whereas Houellebecq,s Platform is told from a white, French, European point of view, Burdett -- who is a relocated Englishman -- writes from a Thai point of view. The detective genre is really a means for Burdett to comment on East-West or North-South encounters. And the books are also meditation on the wayward loss of West and the subtle subversion and continuity of the East.

Best of all, the novels are funny -- often I laughed out loud.

Burdett's work is serious fun. Its not Marquez or Allende or Ghosh, but there is something here. His commentary on cultural encounter is precise and makes me stop to think.

I have read Bankok Tatoo and am half way through Bangkok Haunts.

(Not for the squeemish).
Profile Image for Josh tcatsninfan.
20 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2022
I didn't enjoy this book at all. I enjoy reading thrillers from time to time and never expect them to be Pulitzer winners. Having said that, this book is hot garbage.

First off, I'm no expert on Thailand or Thai people but this book SCREAMS that it was written by a non-Thai person. The way the character thinks and talks doesn't feel authentic at all. It's extremely obvious that it was written by some foreigner who had a few token conversations with Thai people and thought he could write stories from their perspective.

I also didn't enjoy the combination of Buddhism and violence. I can read Buddhist material and I can read violent material, but this book combines the two and it felt very unrealistic to me.

Finally, the things that happen in this novel are so far removed from reality in a technical/logistical sense. The things that happen are cliche and exaggerated the way a bad action movie would be. As I said above, I'm not expecting top quality writing from a thriller, but there are much better thrillers out there than this one.

That's all I really want to say about this book. I don't want to waste anymore time on it.
Profile Image for Alondra Miller.
966 reviews55 followers
October 12, 2018
4 Stars

If you are looking for traditional mystery, then you've come to the wrong book.

If you want an original take on the mystery genre, with some mild thrills, Thai attitudes on sex/sexuality, and Buddhism that is sewn within the plot like silk; then this is definitely the right book.

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is our honest Thai cop, on the hunt for his partners killer. He is thrust deep into a known cover-up and conspiracy of an old murder, unknown to him. He is vulnerable, flawed, and yet has a strong composition as a human being, that you can't help but root for him. This almost feels like world-building for the rest of the series, it's that good.

The ending caused the loss of 1/2 star. I won't even hint at what happened.

Recommended. :)
4,759 reviews52 followers
April 13, 2019
A marine sergeant is murdered via cobra and a pair of whacky Bangkok police start to investigate. Just when you're thinking we're headed into a buddy cop book, the by the book straight man is killed, and the gonzo, anything goes cop goes on the vengeance trail.

Good stuff. Really effective in some places.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,156 reviews313 followers
April 9, 2009
First Sentence: The African American marine in the gray Mercedes will soon die of bites from Naja siamensis, but we don’t know that yet, Pichai and I (the future is impenetrable, says the Buddha).

Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is the son of a Thai retired prostitute and a white man, whose identity his mother won’t divulge. Sonchai and Pichai, his partner, best friend and soul-mate, have been assigned to follow a U.S. Marine sergeant. In tailing the sergeant, they lose him for a bit, but then see his car. When they arrive, they see the sergeant, his head half engulfed by a python and being bitten by cobras. In trying to rescue him, Pichai is bitten and killed. Sonchai swears death to the killer.

This was a fascinating book. It has wonderful imagery and humor. I loved the injections of Buddhist philosophy, particularly the attitude toward death. Reincarnation is an accepted fact of being, made even more interesting by Sonchai’s ability to see other’s past lives. But best is that the author provides a real look at Thai life and culture, not just that as seen by tourists.

BANKOCK 8 (Pol. Proc-Det. Sonchai Jitpleecheep-Thailand-Cont) - VG
Burdett, John – 1st in series
Vintage, 2004, US Paperback- ISBN: 9781400032907

The story is told from Sonchai’s point of view and it really is as much, if not more, his story than a traditional police procedural. Not only is Sonchai set apart from those around him because of being of mixed blood, but because, in a country where corruption is accepted, he is arhat (meritorious) and doesn’t accept bribes or sleep with women.

I found the story a little hard to follow at times, but at no time was I tempted to stop. I found the ending completely appropriate to the story.

This was a mystery group read and I am very glad we chose it.
Profile Image for Tara.
334 reviews25 followers
March 13, 2008
i liked this book, but wasn't ultimately totally satisfied with it. i usually like to finish a fluff-type book like this with a feeling like "ahhhhhh that was good," but at the end of this one i just kinda felt like "meh."

i really liked reading about thailand/bangkok, given my obsession with the region, so that was cool. but the characters didn't really have a lot of depth (and were sometimes pretty implausible), and i wanted the plot to have more twists and turns and be more exciting.
1 review1 follower
April 8, 2011
You're either a fan of Thai prostitutes and that whole scene, or you're not. But if you're a Raymond Chandler fan, well, you'll just put this down and reread one of his.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,393 reviews822 followers
September 23, 2021
I enjoyed the actual plot of this book but culturally, I found the world described as confusing. The MC is a policeman and also a devout Buddhist. He doesn’t take bribes but he does bribe others. His Buddhist beliefs seem to go against his choice of profession. Also I’m not sure how the author is trying to characterise him- some details seem contradictory. The method of death in this murder was gruesome if you have a horror of snakes as I do!
Profile Image for Andrea.
880 reviews132 followers
May 28, 2019
Interesting concept, and quite gripping, but I can't take a book seriously which boasts that it is "impeccably researched" on the cover, and then the one and only German sentence in the whole book is not even spelled correctly. I can't judge how well the author did his research into Buddhism and Thai culture, but that misspelling is just lazy.
Profile Image for Susan.
55 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2008
This book was not what I expected. I thought it would be a thriller, or a detective novel. Rather, it is an insightful look into the sex & crime culture in Bangkok Thailand. The author writes (through the voice of the narrator) "This isn't a whodunit, is it? More like a whatwillshedonext." That's a perfect description of this book. You figure out the details of the crime as you read, but more importantly, you understand WHY things happen. And the WHY is in the context of the deep, philosophical yet also cynically realistic eyes of the protagonist, a Buddhist un-corrupted Thai cop, who himself is half-American. Yes, the characters are as complex as they seem. In addition, you learn about the Thai culture, the Thai perspective on crime, prostitution, corruption within government agencies, as well as the inter-change with other (specifically American) cultures. Fantastic book with gritty, intricate details.
Profile Image for Carolynne.
813 reviews25 followers
January 16, 2012
Barely 2 stars. I enjoyed the main character, Sonchai, and was sympathetic with his desire to avenge the death of his partner, but most of the other characters were either stereotypical or offensive. The FBI agent was a fantasy out of any hard-boiled detective novel, an apparently sex-starved beautiful blonde, lusting after Sonchai. Please. I thought the murderer was obvious pretty early on, so I probably would not have kept reading except that this was a bookclub selection. I did enjoy the references to the way Buddhism informed Sonchai and Pichai's lives, but the author lacked credibility for me, so I'm not confident in his vision of the Eastern religion. And you had to buy into that even to partly accept the ending. Just not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,591 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2016
There were parts of this book that were OK. The discussions between the FBI Agent and the Thai hero on the culture of consumerism versus those from a Buddhist country had some interesting points. The initial murder scene and the punishment mete out to the bad guy were original. But I just thought there was a lot of pretentious, Western bias into Thais and their beliefs. It also seemed to argue that strip clubs and prostitution were okay in a weird way.
This book does not measure up to Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series where the characters are charming not caricatures and there is a respect shown to the people and their beliefs.
Profile Image for Jessica.
391 reviews39 followers
November 26, 2007
With a bang (or, rather, a venomous bite) John Burdett introduces us to the spiritual, yet corrupt, world of Bangkok policing, with the murder-by-drug-crazed-cobra of an expat African-American Army office in Bangkok. The attack also kills a police officer, and his partner/spiritual brother, seeks his killer. This reveals a colorful world of expat decadence, business-oriented prostitutes, corrupt cops, spicy food, Buddhism, hospitals specializing in transsexual operations, the jade trade, and some of the more fascinating facets of Thai culture.
64 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2018
Drug smuggling, the illegal jade trade, and gender reassignment surgery drive the narrative in Burdett's series first, an electrifying and potent mix of the exotic, erotic, and narcotic.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,169 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.