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"Bangkok 8" by John Burdett

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In "Bangkok 8," what has John Burdett wrought? We witness Sonchai Jitpleecheep, one of the very few uncorrupted cops in Bangkok, use meditation, charm, and his own subtle use of Bangkok's culture of bribery to untangle the web of drug trafficking, prostitution, art fraud, and murder which has enveloped him. But, into the bargain, Burdett presents us with an insider's look at the drastic culture shock faced by Westerners when they encounter the Thai Buddhist mindset - here Europeans and Americans are the backward, the oafish, the arrogant boors who run roughshod over Thailand's natural resources. There is a deep metaphysical pool into which we are immersed in this book - that's its difference from other mysteries.
The facts of the case are not especially remarkable on the surface. An American Marine who has bungled an attempt to join an international criminal syndicate is murdered in exotic style. All our detective's instincts and all the evidence point to a powerful, well-connected jade and jewelry dealer whom Sonchai feels he must kill to avenge the death of his partner. However, enter Fatima, the extremely sensual, beautiful result of a modern-day Pygmalion project - gone horribly wrong - and the heavy's demise is taken off our hero's hands. Or is it?

Something else that distinguishes this intriguing piece from other mystery stories is the bifurcation of our detective's personality: Fatima is really Sonchnai's alter ego, his living, breathing dark side, who takes it upon herself to deliver a brutal justice in her own way. All along, we have the ethereal, not-quite-concrete meditations on Buddha, karma, and the irreconcilable conflict between Western and Eastern morality. Along the way we have the detective's delightful entrepreneur mother, the crooked police commander Sonchai nonetheless loves, and communication with the detective's dead partner, whom he describes as his soul brother. And the master-stroke which turns the tables karmically correct is orchestrated by a holy and far-off Buddhist monk.

Read "Bangkok 8," and be transported by remarkable language and gritty similitude to another country, another morality, another state of mind. Recommended unreservedly.
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