Tag Archives: John Burdett

Bangkok 8, by John Burdett

4 stars 4/5

Discovering Bangkok 8 is the perfect example of why I love blogging. Without Nomadreader’s recommendation I wouldn’t have come across this book which really was the perfect holiday read for my Thailand trip.

Corgi, 2004 paperback edition, 432 pages - personal library

Bangkok 8 is a detective novel with a whole different flavor, thanks to the unique outlook and philosophy of it’s main character. Half Thai, half farang, and the son of an upwardly-mobile prostitute, Detective Jitpleecheep is the quirkiest detective I’ve come across before. If I were to try to describe his sometimes contradictory and spiritual mentality it would sound almost comedic, and yet Bangkok 8 is a very dark novel with a deeply sincere protagonist.

The detective gets in embroiled in a case involving a well connected American jeweler, an imposing black marine-turned jade carver, a stunning mixed-race femme fatale and a bunch of gun-toting Khmers. He becomes involved when his partner is killed as a by-product of what looks like a revenge-killing. Sound far-fetched? Well Burdett makes believable and pieces the story together in a way that is compelling and entertaining.

My favorite thing about Bangkok 8 is the way that Burdett personifies the city so that it feels like a living, breathing entity. I was impressed at how the atmosphere of Krung Thep (Bangkok) is captured and enjoyed the little details about the city’s development. The Bangkok described, was recognisable to me, but I also started to notice things that I hadn’t before as I looked at this extraordinary metropolis with a different perspective. I wouldn’t want to assume everything Burdett writes is a perfect representation of the city or of the Thai way of life but he certainly seems to have something of a love-affair with Bangkok which is demonstrated through the intimate details he describes.

Bangkok 8 is a smart thriller, which explores complex ideas about the sex industry and Thai society without getting too heavy. A great escape from normality, with an oddly charming central character. I’ll leave you with this snippet where Detective Jitleecheep ponders what it means to face death to give you a taste of his unique philosophy:

“We do not look on death the way you do, farang. My closest colleagues grasp my arm and one or two embrace me. No-one says sorry. Would you be sorry about a sunset? No-one doubts that I have sworn to avenge Pichai’s death. There are limits to Buddhism when honour is at stake.”