Friday, December 15, 2006

Burdett's Bangkok Cop

John Burdett, Bangkok 8, Vintage Books, 2003. My friend Tom Jacobs gave me this paperback for Christmas a year or so ago, along with Alma Guillermoprieto's Dancing With Cuba, on the correct assumption that I view literature as a way of expanding my horizons. You will expand your horizons with this book, unless you're already immersed in Buddhism, the Bangkok sex trade, and transexuality (be honest now!). This is an extremely well-conceived book written (by a Westerner) from the point of view of a half-caste Thai policeman, an imaginative exercise few Western writers would dare try to pull off (I'm reminded of Anthony Burgess's massive novel Earthly Powers written from the point of view of a gay man). Burdett can do it because he's so passionately involved with Bangkok and with the East-West interface, and obviously with Buddhism as well. There is a fine noir atmosphere and lots of, shall we say, information about the sex bars of Bangkok that compels one to scrutinize Mr. Burdett's bookjacket photo from time to time. Unfortunately as any aspiring genre writer knows well-conceived is one thing and well-realized is another; the second half drags (pardon the pun) a bit while the author cranks us through the awful (high-concept) truth and the awful (high-concept) retribution and so forth. Still I heartily recommend this one for mystery fans of all, um, persuasions.

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