Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #5) [NOOK Book]

Overview

Nobody knows Bangkok like Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and there is no one quite like Sonchai: a police officer who has kept his Buddhist soul intact?more or less?despite the fact that his job shoves him face-to-face with some of the most vile and outrageous crimes and criminals in Bangkok. But for his newest assignment, everything he knows about his city?and himself?will be a mere starting point.
 
He?s put in charge ...
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Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #5)

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Overview

Nobody knows Bangkok like Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and there is no one quite like Sonchai: a police officer who has kept his Buddhist soul intact—more or less—despite the fact that his job shoves him face-to-face with some of the most vile and outrageous crimes and criminals in Bangkok. But for his newest assignment, everything he knows about his city—and himself—will be a mere starting point.
 
He’s put in charge of the highest-profile criminal case in Thailand—an attempt to bring an end to trafficking in human organs. He sets in motion a massive sting operation and stays at its center, traveling to Phuket, Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, and Monte Carlo. He draws in a host of unwitting players that includes an aging rock star wearing out his second liver and the mysterious, diabolical, albeit gorgeous co-queenpins of the international body-parts trade: the Chinese twins known as the Vultures. And yet, it’s closer to home that Sonchai will discover things getting really dicey: rumors will reach him suggesting that his ex-prostitute wife, Chanya, is having an affair. Will Sonchai be enlightened enough—forget Buddha, think jealous husband—to cope with his very own compromised and compromising world?  
 
All will be revealed here, in John Burdett’s most mordantly funny, propulsive, fiendishly entertaining novel yet.
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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
Though not for the faint of heart, the "surreal, exotic, rich"—and quite crazy—world Sonchai inhabits is a classic head trip.
—The New York Times Book Review
Jonathan Yardley
Here we have the fifth of John Burdett's "Bangkok novels," all of them featuring the philosophical Buddhist police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and all of them redolent—in the most enjoyable way—of crime, violence, corruption and sex, not necessarily in that order. Vulture Peak upholds the high standards set by its predecessors. Readers who know the first four novels will be delighted to have a fifth, and others coming to Burdett's Bangkok for the first time will quickly find themselves in a place that may seem mysteriously alien but positively teems with humanity.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Burdett’s fifth Bangkok novel (after 2010’s The Godfather of Kathmandu) opens with a memorable tableau—three corpses, laid neatly on a bed in a Phuket mansion and missing all commercially viable body parts, including their faces. It’s clearly a case for the quirky, pot-smoking police detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, whose investigations are often stymied by the double whammy of his country’s corruption and his own personal problems. When Jitpleecheep is on task, he’s doggedly pursuing traffickers in human organs, led by a beautiful but ruthless set of twins, Lilly and Polly Yip. The criminal ring uses as its source material executed Chinese prisoners, while its customers are wealthy Westerners whose internal organs have worn out. All too often, though, the story veers off into side issues concerning drug use, Jitpleecheep’s marital difficulties, and gender change. Burdett’s writing remains fresh, humorous, and full of insights into Thailand, but readers who prefer focus and suspense should look elsewhere. Author tour. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for John Burdett and his Bangkok novels

“Burdett’s fever-dream mysteries, set in Bangkok, recast the police procedural as psychedelic peep show.” The New Yorker
 
“Burdett is purely and simply a wonderful writer.” The Washington Post Book World
 
“Those who hunger for more tastes, sounds and smells of Bangkok as only Burdett can render them need have no fear . . . It is Sonchai’s unique ability to be both consummate insider and curious outsider that makes him the ideal cicerone to the high life and low life of Bangkok.” San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Burdett writes like a dark angel.” Chicago Tribune
 
“Burdett’s attention to character and his studiously elegant prose style elevate this work well above the usual . . . Pensive, articulate Sonchai has a strong philosophical bent that makes him an excellent guide to the seamy Southeast Asian underworld.” Entertainment Weekly
 
“Spellbinding . . . To conjure Burdett’s unique blend of garishness and gravitas, imagine a Conrad novel transformed into a video game . . . Scintillating.” The Boston Globe
 
“Exuberant . . . Sonchai’s voice is so distinctively off-kilter as the narrator of his own misadventures, he could read the ingredients list of Singha beer out loud and readers would be entranced.” Newsday
 

Library Journal
A ghoulish triple homicide brings Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep to the hilltop compound known as Vulture Peak. Three bodies, laid neatly on a bed, are missing eyes, kidneys, livers, and genitals. The ever-corrupt, opportunistic Colonel Vikorn, Sonchai's boss, wants to know what's going on. And, incidentally, he wants to be the new governor of Bangkok. As in the last four novels in Burdett's series, Sonchai is maneuvering in a nearly bewildering stew of greed, ambition, sex, drugs, and sheer criminal insanity. While the tale does not meander as much as its predecessor, The Godfather of Kathmandu, there are sinuous twists as our detective tries to make sense of the international machinations of the Yip sisters and Vikorn's arch rival, General Zinna. VERDICT There are some truly stomach-turning scenes, and even a hardened reader of thrillers will blanch. Burdett, as usual, can't resist his tendency to lecture farangs (Thai slang for Westerners) on materialism and the myriad weaknesses of the Western mind. While these lectures are getting tiresome, Sonchai and his gritty adventures as philosopher-cop will have fans looking for the next installment. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]—Sally Harrison, Ocean Cty. Lib., Waretown, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep returns in Burdett's fifth Bangkok novel as he gets involved in murderous--and convoluted--doings working on a case involving the trafficking of human body parts. This triple homicide is particularly grisly because all three bodies have been discovered at a mansion on Vulture Peak, near Phuket, and are all unidentifiable because they've been mutilated for the harvesting of their organs as well as less prepossessing body parts like faces. Police Colonel Vikorn puts the detective in an awkward position because solving this crime would make the unfathomably corrupt colonel smell like a rose and the Thai people would get respect when this illegal trafficking is brought to a halt. The plan is for Sonchai to go undercover and pose as one of those very organ traffickers, and when he does so, he quickly comes up against Lilly and Polly Yip, Chinese twins with brains, beauty and ruthlessness. The twins have received medical training and are also pathological gamblers, willing to bet thousands, for example, on when a fly will get to the top of a window. It turns out the demand for organs is fueled by rich farangs (Westerners), and the Yips seem to be willing to supply body parts from Chinese criminals as well as from more unwilling and vulnerable members of society. Sonchai bounces his theories off of his girlfriend Chanya, a former prostitute now working on a doctorate in sociology. (She knows whereof she speaks because her topic is on prostitution in Bangkok.) Burdett's strengths are tilted toward characterization rather than plotting, for Buddhist Sonchai remains a fascinating cross between Buddhist monk and hard-boiled detective.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307596581
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/10/2012
  • Series: Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series , #5
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 128,347
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

John Burdett was brought up in North London and worked as a lawyer in Hong Kong. To date he has published seven novels, including the Bangkok series: Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, and Vulture Peak.
 
www.john-burdett.com
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Read an Excerpt

1

In the golden age of conspicuous consumption--it must be more than twenty years ago now, although it seems like only yesterday--someone rich and famous from Hong Kong built a stately pleasure dome high on a hill in Phuket overlooking the Andaman Sea. They used the finest Thai architects, who produced a lyrical palace with curving roofs under which teak pillars of great girth support high ceilings over vast play areas where pools of limpid blue are linked by tiny streams that tinkle over smooth pebbles selected by a feng shui master, and enormous bedrooms offer ocean views to make you gasp. The developer named the hilltop they had thus colonized Vulture Peak, whether in homage to the Indian mountain upon which the Buddha gave his celebrated sermons, or to the buzzards they had evicted, is unclear.

It’s as good a place as any for a triple homicide, although access is complicated. I came by taxi, but the driver lost us in a complex of single-lane roads that led to other mansions. We could see the place clearly enough--it’s the biggest and swankiest of them all--so in the end I climbed up an iron ladder from the sea and have arrived a good fifty minutes after the forensic team, which is led by our senior pathologist, Dr. Supatra, a diminutive figure in white coveralls, mask, and gloves. We press our palms together and wai each other from a distance. She is accompanied by a team of about eight, for the news that it is an atrocity of the more serious kind preceded our arrival and the good doctor likes to be prepared. More than the size of her team, the heavy silence and glum faces--only she and her chief assistant are wearing masks--portend a crime scene lurid with bad luck. Not a one of us will not spend an hour or so making merit in a temple before the day is out. In my mind’s eye I stand before a Buddha image with a bunch of smoking incense and bow three times.

Dr. Supatra leads me to the master bedroom, where three human forms lie on a giant bed. In an attempt to minimize the bad joss as much as to express respect for the dead, Supatra has covered them from head to toe with an equally extravagant white sheet. She pauses for a moment before inviting me to share the labor of removing it. The rest of her team have wandered in to observe my reaction.

The Buddha taught that the distinction between subject and object, the self and other, even between you and me, Dear Farang Reader (may I call you DFR?), is illusory. This lesson is brought home with perhaps more drama than the Master intended when the human forms before you have been stripped of faces, eyes, genitals, and--as the good doctor indicates by pointing to gaping wounds in each cadaver--kidneys and livers too. To call them anonymous would be to evade the issue. Stripped of every vestige of personal identity, they are all of us, as anyone knows who has ever flown economy. With so much surgery to absorb, it takes me a moment to notice that the finger and thumb tips of each victim have been snipped off. Supatra follows my gaze.

“Any first impressions regarding cause of death?” I ask.

“Gunshot wounds to the back of the head. A single shot in each case. Everything points to a carefully planned execution prior to pillaging the bodies for organs.”

“Obviously no print identification,” I mutter. “DNA?”

The doctor shrugs. “If any of them committed a serious crime over the past five years, maybe. We only have DNA records for convicted criminals.”

“But prints could have been checked on the national ID bank.” I shake my head. “Someone is being unusually shy about who they killed. We have to go on the likelihood they were all Thai residents who could have been identified if they still had fingertips.” I scratch my jaw. “That leaves sixty million possibilities.”

Supatra allows herself a smile bordering on the coquettish. “I may be able to help, Detective. Just last week I sent off for some fancy software that will allow us to reconstruct the faces on my laptop. The government won’t pay so I’m buying it myself.”

“Really? That will be helpful. By the way, what genders are the victims?”

“Two men and a woman.”

Now I notice something else. “No blood?”

“Somebody cleaned up meticulously. They even used some chemical that neutralizes our tests. I tell you, whoever did it were professionals. There were certainly more than one.” I nod.

“Any ideas?” the doctor asks when we have replaced the sheet.

“You mean whodunit? Only in the more general sense.” She raises her eyes. “Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, Adam Smith. Capitalism dunit. Those organs are being worn by somebody else right now.”

She stares at me for a moment and, good Buddhist that she is, shivers. “Oh, yes. Of course I saw that from the start.”

I leave her in the infinite lounge to step out onto the balcony, which offers a plummeting vista of rocks and ocean of the kind that invariably provokes thoughts of suicide in even the healthiest psyche, and fish out my cell phone to call my assistant, Lek. I ask him to go straight to the Phuket land registry and give him the address of the crime scene, which should be enough for the registry to work out the lot number. I don’t bother to check the rest of the house--what’s the point?

Despite my evasive answer to the doctor’s question, I already know too much. I need to clear my head and my heart. I also need to consider how to break the news to my partner, Chanya. All of a sudden I need to do a lot of things that form no part of crime detection. The iron ladder I climbed up starts at a corner of the balcony and hugs the massive rock all the way down. I jump the last two steps to land on soft shale that releases an inelegant sea stench, which I suck in with some relief. Despite the impossible heat I decide to follow the shore all the way back to the main road. I’ll find a cab or a motorbike taxi there.


Lek, a transsexual permanently on the verge of the operation that will equally permanently turn him into a woman, is waiting outside the thoroughly modern land registry, a refugee from the glacial air-conditioning that our bureaucrats have come to expect as a perk of their employment. He shivers as I open the door for us, and we are braced by an arctic breeze. “The clerk’s a katoey,” he complains. Katoey means transsexual, which is to say one of his own tribe. Is it too early in the narrative for a dark observation on the human condition, namely that to know well is often to loath well? To put it another way, the fishwife inside all men is liberated when the goolies are cut off--or about to be.

But he’s right, the clerk is a katoey of the kind who did not find consummation after the operation. Dark, paranoid eyes seem in endless doubt as to whether life without a cock is even worse than with one. When I ask politely if he cannot find the lot number of the address I give him--it is after all the biggest, most prominent, most overblown mansion on the highest rock in the locality--Lek interjects loudly with faux hurt, “I already asked him exactly that question, and he said, ‘What do you think I am, a private detective?’ ”

I catch the clerk’s eye and smile glacially as I present my police ID. Caught, he goes into a classic katoey sulk. It’s the full show with pouted lips, tuts, and well-I-supposes, but he magically finds the logbook under the desk. He must have retrieved it from the shelves while Lek was outside sheltering from the cold. Perhaps fearful that I will make a formal complaint, he tuts and frets his way through the pages until he finds the lot we are seeking. He also runs his finger down the column that records the various parties who have owned the pleasure palace over the years.

It seems that a famous and now deceased Hong Kong Chinese woman, the widow of an equally famous land development tycoon, bought the lot through a local company without disguising her identity. This we may take as an act of flamboyance, proving she was so rich she didn’t much care if one day she would have to pay tax on the resale or, more likely, that she would one day be cheated by her Thai shadow shareholders. On her death the property was sold and resold through a succession of shell companies until the present owner, B.C.A. Company, bought it officially for one hundred million baht, which at the present rate of exchange works out at roughly $3.5 million. The recorded price doubtless reflects a strategy to evade transfer tax; we can assume the actual sale figure was at least double.

As is proper, the details of B.C.A. Company are also recorded in the register. I am not surprised that the eight shareholders are Thai; I would be surprised, though, if any of them invested any equity at all in the company. Whoever is the true owner of the mansion has made sure someone searching the registry--a cop like me, for example--will not so easily discover their identity.

I thank the clerk. He has transformed into a female doormat who fawns and moans as he hefts the heavy tome and tramps slope-shouldered down the aisle between shelves that hold the larcenous secrets of a real estate boom more than thirty years old, while Lek and I retreat gratefully to the heat wave that awaits outside.

I try to avoid Lek’s eye while we look around for a taxi, but he grasps my arm.

“It’s part of the other thing, isn’t it?”

“Too early to say,” I reply. He treats me to a fishwife leer of disbelief.


2

I shall tease you no further, DFR, but straightaway tell you what I know. It all began on an inauspicious Thursday last week.

“I looked into body parts about five years ago,” Police Colonel Vikorn said, and gave me one of his dangerous smiles. We were in his spartan but spacious office, where he sat at his desk under a great anticorruption poster of which he is inexplicably fond. “But the logistics seemed too nerve-wracking. In the end I decided to stay with what I knew. Smack never goes bad, especially if you keep it in morphine bricks during a bear market.”

My Colonel stood. He is of average height with gray hair almost cropped. As on most days, he was dressed in an informal version of the Thai cop’s brown uniform, a worn cotton combination that looks like military fatigues. It is one of his idiosyncrasies that he never walks but only prowls. Now he prowled to the window to look down on the cooked-food stalls that line the street below. “So many things you have to set up. The surgeon to harvest the parts from the donor or the cadaver. The other surgeon to pop them into the donee. Nursing support for both. And if you do it right, you probably need a specialist in whatever organ you’re transplanting--kidneys are the gold standard, but there’s quite a lot of liver, heart, lung trafficking these days, and they say that whole eyes and faces are now viable. Then there’s the clinic to set up. If you’ve got some farang calling the shots, he’s not going to expect it all to happen in a third-world garage.”

He pursed his lips. “And you have to have a good organ hunter to work the supply side in the first place, not to mention the nurse to take the blood samples to check compatibility.” He turned to face me. “But I could see the point, of course. Suppose some rich little shit on Wall Street needs a new heart. Is he going to wait in line in the hope that the health system will find him a replacement before he croaks--or is he going to buy himself one on the black market? If he’s on the point of dying, obviously he’ll pay whatever price the organ hunter demands. If he’s worth eight hundred million, surely a mere million is not too much to ask in return for another twenty years of bleeding the world white? See, the hunter is the key to it all.” He paused and frowned. “Sure, it would be a first-class racket if it wasn’t for the short shelf life of the product. Did you know that lungs and hearts only last six hours? After that they’re useless.”

“No,” I said, “I didn’t know that.”

Vikorn flashed me a glance and nodded thoughtfully. “Eyes, of course, last longer. Just pop them out and chuck them in a fridge, they’re good for a week.”

“I thought you said eyes were only just coming onstream.”

“I said whole eyes. Corneas are entry-level stuff--you don’t even need a real surgeon, a well-trained nurse could do it--but the corneas are kept intact on the eyeballs until they’re needed--it’s called an eye bank. No civilized country is without one.” He covered his mouth to cough. “The United Arab Emirates is one of the big markets for corneas. It’s all that sun, burns them out. How long do you think human testicles would last on ice?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never heard of transplanting testicles.”

“There’s an incredible demand for them in North Korea, did you know that?”

“No.”

“Of course, with North Koreans you never know if they’re going to transplant them or eat them.”

He let the moment hang for a few beats, then said in a suddenly formal and almost public tone of voice, “Organ trafficking is a deplorable thing, don’t you think? It’s outrageous that people use our country as a staging post for such an appalling crime. Someone needs to do something about it. I spoke to the deputy secretary yesterday, he’s right behind me. He’s given me tacit approval to lead the charge.”

Now I’d lost the plot entirely. Vikorn lead a law and order campaign? In your mythology, DFR, that would be like Judas running for pope. Stranger still, this was the first I’d heard of Thailand being a world organ-trading center. Shrewdly, my master gave me a few moments to adjust to the new reality. Then he said, “So I’m appointing you as lead investigator.”

“Huh?” In more than a decade of feudal service to my chief, he has never asked me to perform a socially useful task. On the contrary, my contribution to the community has largely consisted in modifying his personal interpretation of Western capitalism. “You started out admitting that you looked into the trade for personal profit. Now suddenly you want to wipe it out. May I ask why?”

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Sandykit

    HA!!! NO SCHOOL!!!!! WHOOP!!!))) I KNEW IT WAS U!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Oakkit

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2013

    Silver

    Hi Vulture!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    Vulture

    Here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    Tigerstrike

    Here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Violetkit

    Runs in.

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    Posted September 29, 2013

    Fawnheart

    Runs in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2013

    Zero burst

    Hello

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Silverpaw

    Sits

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  • Posted May 30, 2012

    Highly recommend

    It's kind of weird, but in a good way. But it is probably the best of the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series, and I can't put it down. Fast moving story with lots of twists and turns.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Body Count

    The Bangkok novels by John Burdett are somewhat off the wall, and this latest entry is no exception. It opens with three corpses lying on a bed in a posh mountaintop mansion, with all bodily organs missing. This sets the stage for an investigation into the world-wide trade in human organs by the Buddhist detective, Sonchai Jitplecheep, instigated by his boss, who plans to run for governor of Bangkok based on solving the murders and putting an end to the business.

    We follow the detective’s efforts in a bizarre path from Asia to Dubai, where he meets beautiful twin females, and back to Bangkok and its environs. Along the way we are introduced to a couple of more interesting detectives, one from Hong Kong, another from Shanghai. More important, however, are the far out experiences Sonchai lives through in an effort to understand the organ trade and solve the original three murders.

    Needless to say, the novel is filled wit exotic images, detailed descriptions of the sex industry in Thailand, and Sonchai’s unusual marriage to a former prostitute. While the Bangkok novels are always a lot of fun, this one is a lot blacker than usual, filled with eyeballs, livers, hearts and other parts of the body.

    Recommended.

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  • Posted March 4, 2012

    DFR

    DFR, this latest Sonchai case is extremely satisfying. In comparison to most other mysteries, it could have ended almost 100 pages before the actual end of the book, but it kept going. You are left with an amazing zinger as well, that caps off the series' required black humor. It is action-packed, full of truly bizarre happenings, and Supatra and Lek get their fair share, along with some foreign special guests, of the detecting. This, of all of them I would love to see turned into an inferior movie adaptation, which now seems inevitable.
    There are also, per the usual, great little funny commentaries about life, farangs' schizo views on prostitution, their impending homo-emergence, cloud policing, Linda's house call, "really, really, really" etc. There is a greater sense of whimsy throughout. There are also some thought provoking attitudes that make you think beyond the page. As was present in all the books, the line between police and criminal is permeable. I love how, once Sonchai arrives on the proverbial doorstep of the criminal, there is that mutual respect and candor, and the "big confession" is revealed. It's like Sonchai knows, as revealed in the previous book, that nothing may ever be done to the criminal, because they are well-protected, etc. that's simply satisfying just to know whodunit. It's hilarious when, right before this, when Sonchai falls asleep, he awakens not tied and gagged, or dead, but smelling freshly brewed coffee. I haven't encountered that much in the American genres, but, then again, I'm no crime fiction expert.
    At the risk of getting on a soapbox, I was intrigued to hear a character's thoughts on the controversial topic of whether or not certain transgendered persons make a gender reassignment, not out of a desire to be one's true self, but because they feel they will never be accepted by their partner, or their society otherwise. . .or, just to be more "marketable" I am not an authority on current issues or trans terminology so pardon my ignorance. I do like, how, in the series as a whole, sex and sexuality can be talked about frankly, without the typical judgment.
    Nitpicking now---Vikorn and Sonchai having their pissing contest is wearing a little thin. Tired of the same clothing brands being mentioned by Sonchai, although I do appreciate the attention to product detail, similar to BY NIGHTFALL . Also, I was puzzled when Sonchai says, "Opium is so exotic these days, I don't think I've seen it in Bangkok since I was a cadet." Isn't this exactly how it went at the beginning of Bangkok Tattoo with Chanya? I could be mistaken. Fans of the series will like this one, especially if they were a little disappointed in the fourth one, like I was.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2012

    Gamee

    An asian flavored modern-time "1984" meet Sherlock, but more fun. Its the kind of book that needs you to posses a very certain tone of emotional intelligence and life's experience to fully enjoy it. Glad I do. So glad.

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