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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 9 July 2011
Burdett presents a gritty -- but thoughtful -- crime novel combined with a kind of Rough Guide chic that presents a gripping paradigm of Thailand.

Murder, prostitution, drug trafficking and revenge are, perhaps, something of a staple for the genre, but here we have Buddhism and the karmic quest added to the cocktail of human complexity.

The moral tightrope detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep walks to preserve his already tarnished karma is as page turning as the plot itself: both are as many layered, complex and humane as the depiction of the city and its people.
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on 9 September 2004
Firstly this book is incredibly readable: it starts with a shocker and just when you start getting comfortable you're hit by something totally surreal...a bit like living in Asia! Follow the main character, a Thai Policeman called Sonchai, through his own struggles with keeping his Karma in balance, dealing with the loss of his soul brother, and his innate understanding of the Western mind. Explore the Thai Adult Industry with him and meet the Johns, the Janes and the JohnJanes... As a Westerner, it makes you feel kind of small...It's by far the best book I've read in a while...the characters are extreme and utterly believable...incredibly well written with the knowledge of one whos lived there for some time...If you're remotely interested in what happes out in the East, read this book!
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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. .

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.
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on 4 August 2010
John Burdett is far and away the best novelist of Thailand subjects (and he must be a great read for anyone anywhere). But, if you have any ideas about coming to Thailand or if you live here as I do, YOU MUST READ all of his books. It is just that simple. Great narratives, ok characters, really lively and pointed wit, and so thoroughly in tune with this place as to be better, way better, than a guidebook. And, last but perhaps first, he is completely cynical (or just very aware?) about 1. America, 2. Thailand, 3. human nature, and 4. women (at all the points where they can even remotely be accessed). His knowledge about Buddhism is crisp.

Do not deny yourself any longer. Get the Burdett books now!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 September 2003
I'm a sucker for crime fiction set in unusual locales, so it was with great anticipation that I dove into this Bangkok-set debut novel. Burdett does a magnificent job in bringing Bangkok to life—from the neon-lit sex industry to shocking poverty, endemic corruption, widespread yaa baa (methamphetamine) trade, ever-present Bhuddism, and the lingering effects of the Vietnam war. Things kick off with straight-arrow cops Sonchai and Pichai tailing an American marine—allowing Burdett to give Bangkok's legendary traffic a cameo. However, in the middle of their task, the marine is killed by poisonous snakes, one of whom also kills Pichai when he tries to rescue the marine. From here on out Sonchai is a man on a mission, dedicated to solving the marine's (and thus by extension his partner's) murder. The death of the marine brings with it the involvement of the U.S embassy, and a female FBI agent comes over to liase with Sonchai. The plot is a typically convoluted thriller effort, involving international jade smuggling, a powerful American with White House connections, extreme S&M, Khmer thugs, Chui Chow Chinese gangsters and more. Actually, the story itself if the weakest part of the book, succumbing to stereotypical thriller elements and scenes. And it has to be said—the ending is really, really lame.
Still, there's lots to recommend the book. This is a thriller with many shades of gray to delight in. For example, on the one hand, Sonchai is an arhat (kind of a Bhuddist living saint), the one clean cop in the district, and yet he's clear that the only justice he intends to bring his partner's killer to is that found in the barrel of his gun. Similarly, his boss is totally corrupt, but Sonchai respects and reveres him. Most interesting is the portrayal of the sex industry, which is much less condemnatory than one might expect. (Although whether or not it accurately represents Thai attitudes to sex is not for me to judge.) The straightforward story also veers into the supernatural, with Sonchai able to see the past lives of people he encounters. Others love this aspect of his character, but it struck me as an unnecessary gimmick that detracts from the book's excellent portrayal of Bhuddism. Sonchai is a wonderfully laconic character, and all the more surprising for having come from the pen of a Westerner. On the whole, this is a very enjoyable thriller with a wonderful protagonist and great insight into Thai culture and Bangkok, however don't approach it with overly high expectations or you'll be disappointed—it is still of the airplane/beach read genre.
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on 10 February 2010
I was lured to this book by its eye-catching cover and an endorsement in the blurb from Carl Hiaasen, who I rate very higly. I was expecting the book to be full of insights into Bangkok corruption, prostitution and crime. Which, of course, it was. What I hadn't bargained for was the quality of Burdett's writing. Sonchai is a fantastic creation - unique, plausible, complex, flawed, and likeable in equal measure. Ultimately, the crime that drives the plot is somewhat banal (hence only 4 stars) but the lightness of touch and lyricism of the prose is enough to lift this book above the ordinary. You'll enjoy it for its authenticity and superior characterisation, if nothing else. All-in-all a very refreshing, aromatic, sensual, grimey, sapping, seedy change from the derivitive American thriller that publishers seem hellbent on feeding us.
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on 31 July 2003
With Carl Hiaasen and James Ellroy both touting the book as something really good, I had to buy it and more than glad that I did. It was my favourite holiday read and I want more of this quality of writing on the book shelves now! (Also read on hols James Lee Burke's "White Doves in the Morning" - exquisite).
John Burdett has written a book in the "who dunnit" genre, but has somehow managed to elevate it from the ordinary/mundane, cops and robbers novel. Buddhism, spirituality and the Bangkok sex industry are intertwined in a story that leaves you feeling that you've been there, lived the life and learned something. I am now fascinated by jade (you'll have to read to know what I mean). Bangkok is a stunning book,(hence the title of the review). I cannot recommend it enough. John Burdett has just become one of my favourite writers and I intend to read everything that he has written. Pls keep on writing Mr Burdett.
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on 7 September 2010
Written from an interesting character perspective. (it's the lead character telling the story.) I think he has bangkok fairly well pegged although there are some visual and cultural references that feel a bit fudged. The plot has some interesting twists and cleverly thought out conclusions which were hard to guess at. This is though, along with Beyond the Comfort Zone by James M Turner, one of the best books I've read that gives a flavor of day to day life on the seedier side of Thailand.

A definite must read if you are heading out to Bangkok on holiday. Now...if they would just release it on the kindle!
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on 27 August 2003
This is the first of the author's books I've read, and it won't be the last. As they say, the book 'gets under the skin' of Thailand, and anyone who's been to Bangkok will recognise how superbly John Burdett has captured the spirit, the very essence, of the city.
More than a straightforward detective novel, Bangkok 8 gives us a deep insight into the spiritual side of Thailand and its people. The complications of adding Buddhism to mass tourism (some of it highly questionable in motive) is handled expertly, and anyone interested in Thailand would learn more about the country and its people from reading this book than from studying several editions of the 'Lonely Planet' guide.
A truly un-put-downable novel, fascinating and multi-layered, this is one of the two best novels I've read in the past few years. Perhaps the best - it narrowly beats 'God is a Bullet'.
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on 12 November 2004
A great novel, set in Bangkok, exploding many of the myths people have about the city. A real insight into the unique balances of Thai culture and Buddhist nature, woven through an exiting, page turning crime novel, with great characters and plot. Enjoy this real taste of Thai culture. If you have ever been to Bangkok, this is a real must. The research on the part of the author is nothing short of brilliant.
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