Bangkok 8 (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #1)

Bangkok 8 (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #1)

4.2 38
by John Burdett

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A thriller with attitude to spare, Bangkok 8 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

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A thriller with attitude to spare, Bangkok 8 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A tour de force. . . . Burdett is purely and simply a wonderful writer.” —The Washington Post

"A stiletto-sharp mystery/thriller . . . brilliantly rendered." —The Seattle Times-Post Intelligencer

“Like Thai cuisine, Burdett’s comic thriller blends spicy, sour, salty and sweet—and makes for a delicious wake-up for jaded palates.” —People

“Vividly written and even more vividly imagined. . . . This novel is as wild as the city in which it takes place. . . . Read it to blow your mind.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A thriller as exotic as it is enthralling, and as provocative as it is obscene.” –Harper’s

“One of the year's most seductive thrillers. . . . Think of Bangkok 8 as a destination spot for any reader with a taste for the exotic and desire for a really good time.” –New York Daily News

“Gruesome and memorable.” –The New York Times

“Burdett knows how to dole out engagingly gory details and hard-boiled platter.” –Entertainment Weekly

“A different kind of mystery, one you’re not likely to have seen before. . . . Bangkok 8 makes you change your perspective. It takes you into another world and exposes you to different ways of thinking.” —Rocky Mountain News

Bangkok 8 is one of the most startling and provocative mysteries that I've read in years. The characters are marvelously unique, the setting is intoxicating and the plot unwinds in dark illusory strands, reminiscent of Gorky Park. Once I started, I didn't want to put it down.” –Carl Hiaasen

“Edgy, intricate and atmospheric . . . [Burdett] uses plenty of narrative sleight-of-hand to weave together character development, comic relief and inspired plot twists while steering clear of facile exoticism.” —Time Out, New York

“The wildest ride in modern crime novel exoticum. A novel so steeped in milieu that it feels as if you’ve blasted to mars in the grip of a demon who won’t let you go. Read this book, savor the language–it’s the last–and the most compelling word in thrillers.” –James Ellroy

“Characters are well-developed and the tale is carefully woven and fun to read.”
–Columbus Dispatch

The New York Times
… part "Blade Runner" and part Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles … — Michiku Kakutani
NY Times Sunday Book Review
What Burdett, a former lawyer who now lives in Hong Kong, is doing is seducing his readers into thinking not as logical Westerners devoted to the basic rule of cause and effect but as Thai Buddhists who accept and even celebrate life's illogical turns. — David Willis McCullough
The Washington Post
Bangkok 8 meets the thriller genre's requirements -- it's set in an exotic locale; its dramatis personae are in various measures violent, beautiful and mysterious; its plot is labyrinthine and surprising; its ending is ambiguous and ironic -- except one: It is not what reviewers insist on calling a "page-turner." Quite to the contrary. You make your way slowly, painstakingly through Bangkok 8, because you don't want to miss a thing -- not because of the plot's twists and turns, though you do have to pay attention, but because John Burdett is purely and simply a wonderful writer, a genuine grown-up at work in a genre mostly populated by arrested adolescents. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
Set in Thailand's capital in the mid-1990s, this ambitious first novel by Burdett (The Last Six Million Seconds) follows the city's only honest police detective, Sonchai Jitplecheep, as he searches for the person responsible for the deaths of his partner (a friend from childhood) and an American Marine sergeant. This thriller abounds with sensational elements-from homicidal vipers on speed to jade smuggling and the Thai sex trade-but listeners would be wise to follow the lead of Buddhist narrator Sonchai, who is more interested in the graceful acceptance of life's puzzles than in their resolution. The policeman's account of his harsh life and what he must do to serve both the Buddha and his teeming, decadent city enriches the novel, but those fond of neatly wrapped tales may find the surreal but shocking finale less than satisfying. The inspired casting of Wong, who's known for his roles in Madame Butterfly and Oz, more than makes up for this small flaw, however. Wong skillfully conveys the secret pain and self-doubt lurking beneath Sonchai's insouciant facade, while underlining the Eastern mood and the dark humor of Burdett's unique noir tale. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pichai and Sonchai, Buddhist penitents and incorruptible anomalies among Thai police, are tailing an African American marine when they find him murdered in his Mercedes, killed by a mass of cobras and a giant python. When Pichai himself succumbs to a fatal bite, Amerasian detective Sonchai Jitplecheep sets out to avenge his death. Paired with a blonde FBI agent who provides sexual tension and acts as a Western foil for Sonchai's disarming mysticism, he follows strands of forensic and karmic evidence leading to a beguiling dark beauty, a high-powered jade dealer, Chinese businessmen, and Khmer Rouge thugs. In his second East-meets-West thriller (after The Last Six Million Seconds), Burdett evokes an intriguing and exotic Bangkok where hungry ghosts and capitalists throng the busy intersection of the eightfold path and the red-light district. The depiction of the occasional kinkiness and sadism of this world never seems gratuitous and is skillfully refracted through a highly original sleuth. The pace never flags, every page unfolding fresh mysteries of the psychological, cultural, metaphysical, and locked-room varieties. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/03.]-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
East and West coexist in a murderous symbiosis in this exotic thriller by British author (and Hong Kong resident) Burdett (The Last Six Million Seconds, 1997, etc.). This tangled tale of drugs, sex, and political corruption is narrated by Krung Tep (i.e., Bangkok) detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a "half-caste Third World cop who speaks English and French," has a criminal past, and still does the local drug of choice ("yaa baa"). Burdett kickstarts the tale with a dynamite opening sequence: the discovery of black US Marine William Bradley’s dead body in his Mercedes, filled with seemingly drug-crazed cobras and a giant python wrapped amorously around the torso of the deceased. Sonchai’s investigation, done in tandem with American authorities, and abetted and complicated by gorgeous FBI agent Kimberley Jones, takes us through the meanest and seamiest streets of District 8 (Sonchai’s turf), and introduces us to a beguiling gallery of sinister personages portrayed with black-comic brio. The principals include a beautiful black woman whose relationship to Bradley isn’t initially clear; Sonchai’s pragmatic mother Nong, a retired "bar girl" interested in the commercial potential of Viagra; his crafty boss Colonel Vikorn, who’s a little too cozy with CIA ops in Thailand and abroad; jade mogul (and connoisseur of Bangkok’s thriving sex industry) Sylvester Warren; and a fast-talking transsexual with a sure survival instinct. A Russian nuclear physicist turned pimp, "Barbara Hutton’s jadeite wedding necklace," and an educational visit to a crocodile farm keep the reader alert--even when Sonchai’s summary descriptions of Bangkok’s history, culture, and economic priorities lapse into exposition andbackground information clumsily grafted onto the story. Burdett is more successful with Sonchai’s frequent citations of Buddhist wisdom: they’re funny, endearing (and informative) building blocks in the creation of an unusual and interesting protagonist. Enjoyable, mostly, with a savage payoff and a smoky, acidic aftertaste. First printing of 100,000

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt


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). We are one car behind him at the toll for the expressway from the airport to the city and this is the closest we’ve been for more than three hours. I watch and admire as a huge black hand with a heavy gold signet ring on the index finger extends from the window, a hundred-baht note clipped stylishly between the pinkie and what our fortune tellers call the finger of the sun. The masked woman in the booth takes the note, hands him the change and nods in recognition at something he says to her, probably in very bad Thai. I tell Pichai that only a certain kind of American farang attempts conversation with toll booth operators. Pichai grunts and slides down in his seat for a nap. Survey after survey has shown sleep to be my people’s favorite hobby.

“He’s picked someone up, a girl,” I mutter casually, as if this were not a shocking piece of news and clear proof of our incompetence. Pichai opens one eye, then the other, raises himself and stretches his neck just as the Mercedes hatchback races away like a thoroughbred.

“A whore?”

“Green and orange streaks in her hair. Afro style. Black top with straps. Very dark.”

“I bet you know who designed the black top?”

“It’s a fake Armani. At least, Armani was the first to come out with the black semi–tank top with bootlace straps, there have been plenty of imitators since.”

Pichai shakes his head. “You really know your threads. He must have picked her up at the airport, when we lost him for that half hour.”

I say nothing as Pichai, my soul brother and partner in indolence, returns to his slumbers. Perhaps he is not sleeping, perhaps he is meditating. He is one of those who have had enough of the world. His disgust has driven him to ordain and he has named me as the one who, along with his mother, will shave his head and eyebrows, which honor will permit us to fly to one of the Buddha heavens by clinging to his saffron robes at the moment of death. You see how entrenched is cronyism in our ancient culture.

In truth there is something mesmeric about the black marine’s head-and-shoulder set which has consumed all my attention. At the beginning of the surveillance I watched him get out of his car at a gas station: he is a perfectly formed giant and this perfection has fascinated me for three hours, as if he were some kind of black Buddha, the Perfect Man, of whom the rest of us are merely scale models with ugly flaws. Now that I have finally noticed her, his whore looks erotically fragile beside him, as if he might crush her inadvertently like a grape against the palate, to her eternal and ecstatic gratitude (you see why I am not suitable for monkhood).

By the time I have inched up to the toll booth in our dying Toyota, he has flown to who knows what celestial bed of pleasure in his late-model Garuda.

I say to my beloved Pichai, “We’ve lost him,” but Pichai also has flown, leaving only his uninhabited corpse, which snores in the seat beside me.

Naja siamensis is the most magnificent of our spitting cobras and might be our national mascot, for its qualities of beauty, charm, stealth and lethal bite. Naja, by the way, is from the Sanskrit, and a reference to the great Naja spirit of the earth who protected our Lord Buddha during a dreadful storm in the forest where he meditated.


The elevated expressway is the only road in the city where a Mercedes E series can outrun a Toyota Echo, and I drive without hope or haste (which comes from the devil; slowness comes from Buddha), just for form, feeling out of place amongst the elite vehicles whose owners can afford the toll: Mercs and BMWs, Japanese four-by-fours, plus a lot of taxis with farangs in the back. We fly above the brothel-hotels of the Nana district before I take a slip road into the primeval jam below.

Nobody jams like us. On Sukhumvit at the junction with Soi 4 the traffic is solid in four directions. There is a sentry box here for the traffic cops who are supposed to deal with the problem, but how do two underpaid cops move a million cars packed like mangoes for export? The cops are asleep behind their glass and the drivers have given up honking their horns. It is too hot and humid to honk. I spy our guns and holsters in a tangle at Pichai’s feet, along with the radio and the portable siren to clamp on the roof when we finally go into action. I nudge Pichai.

“Better call him, tell him we lost the mark.”

Pichai already has the monkish capacity to hear and understand whilst asleep. He groans, passes a hand through the condemned jet-black locks which I have always envied and bends double to retrieve the Korean short-wave radio. An exchange of static and the unsurprising intelligence that Police Colonel Vikorn, chief of District 8, cannot be located.

“Call him on his mobile.”

Pichai fishes his own mobile out of a pocket and presses the autodial button. He speaks to our Colonel in terms too respectful for modern English to carry (somewhere between “sire” and “my lord”), listens for a moment, then slips the Nokia back in his pocket. “He’s going to ask Traffic to cooperate. If the black farang shows up, Traffic will call us on the radio.” I turn up the air-conditioning and wind the seat back. I try to practice the insight meditation I learned long ago in my teens and have practiced intermittently ever since. The trick is to catch the aggregates as they speed through the mind without grasping them. Every thought is a hook, and if we can only avoid those hooks we might achieve nirvana in one or two lifetimes, instead of this endless torture of incarnation after incarnation. I am interrupted by more static from the radio (I register static, static, static before emerging from the meditation). Black farang in gray Mercedes reported stopped at Dao Phrya, on the slip road under the bridge. Pichai calls the Colonel, who authorizes the siren.

I wait while Pichai slips out of the car, clamps the siren to the roof, where it flashes and wails to no effect on the gridlock, and walks over to the sentry box, where the traffic cops are dozing. At the same time he is strapping on his holster and gun and reaching in his pocket for his police ID. A more advanced soul than I, he gives no sign of the disgust he feels at being trapped in this pollution called life on earth. He would not wish to poison anyone else’s mind. Nevertheless, he smacks his hand somewhat violently against the glass of the sentry box and yells at them to wake the fuck up. Smiles and a gentlemanly discussion before the boys in donkey brown (the uniform can appear bottle green in some lights) emerge to take charge. They come up to me in the car and there is the usual double-take when they see what I am. The Vietnam War left plenty of half-castes in Krung Thep, but few of us turned into cops.

There are several inches of slack within which every car can shunt, and our colleagues show considerable skill and cunning in making a space. In no time at all I am able to drive up onto the sidewalk, where the siren terrorizes the pedestrians. Pichai grins. I am skilled at very dangerous driving from the days when we used to take drugs and steal cars together, a golden age which came to an end when Pichai murdered our yaa baa dealer and we had to seek refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha. There will be time in this chronicle to explain yaa baa.

While I practice close encounters with cooked-food stalls, sex traders and oncoming traffic, wheel spins, split-second lurches and even one hand-brake spin, I try to remember what Dao Phrya Bridge is famous for. Why have I heard of it at all?

We are very happy. Sabai means feeling good and sanuk means having fun. We are both as we race toward the bridge in demonic haste, with Pichai chanting in Pali, the ancient language of the Gautama Buddha, for protection from accidents. He asks also of the Buddhist saints that we do not accidentally kill anyone who does not deserve it, a touchy point with Pichai.

Krung Thep means City of Angels, but we are happy to call it Bangkok if it helps to separate a farang from his money.

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What People are saying about this

Carl Hiaasen
Bangkok 8 is one of the most startling and provocative mysteries that I've read in years. The characters are marvelously unique, the setting is intoxicating and the plot unwinds in dark illusory strands, reminiscent of Gorky Park. Once I started, I didn't want to put it down.
Jeffery Deaver
A stunning thriller! Bangkok 8 is suspense at its best: a masterfully written tale set in a world that's perfectly evoked and populated with compelling, flesh-and-blood characters.
James Ellroy
The wildest ride in modern crime novel exoticum. A novel so steeped in milieu that it feels as if you’ve blasted to mars in the grip of a demon who won’t let you go. Read this book, savor the language–it’s the last–and the most compelling word in thrillers.

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