The Barnes & Noble Review
Lawyer-turned-novelist John Burdett revisits the seedy red light district of Thailand's capital in Bangkok Tattoo, the follow-up to 2003's critically acclaimed Bangkok 8.
Royal Thai police detective and devout Buddhist Sonchai Jitpleecheep is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place when a CIA agent is found brutally murdered in a brothel owned in part by the detective's mother and his corrupt boss, Colonel Vikorn. The only witness -- and suspect -- is a seductively beautiful prostitute named Chanya, "a tantric master in a G-string, a topless sorceress" and the Old Man's Club's biggest breadwinner. If Jitpleecheep arrests Chanya, his mother's struggling business could go belly up; but if he agrees to follow Colonel Vikorn's lead and blame the murder on a terrorist connected to al-Qaeda, he could very well be bringing all-out war to Thailand. As the CIA brings in more manpower to ineptly investigate the operative's horrific murder (he was castrated and partially skinned), Jitpleecheep slowly gets the real -- and jaw-dropping -- story out of Chanya, whose account includes an extended trip across pre-9/11 America, opium addiction, Homer Simpson, and a tattoo-obsessed john.
Featuring all kinds of corruption and vices (from twisted sexual propensities to military and political subversion to drug and weapons trafficking), the exotic setting of Bangkok -- and especially the striking difference between Southeast Asian culture and Western philosophy -- makes Burdett's mystery a simply unforgettable read. Paul Goat Allen
Burdett's singular contribution to the contemporary mystery novel may be the way he breaks with the genre's judgmental puritanism when it comes to the sex trade. Is it simply the adolescent strain in American hard-boiled fiction that makes it impossible for the genre's practitioners to give us a stripper or prostitute who is aware of what she's doing, who has chosen to do it and who is putting together a good life thanks to her profession? This novel's explorations of the quid pro quo at work in the intersection of the Eastern sex trade and Western sex tourists doesn't go as deep as the critically ridiculed examination of the same transactions in Michel Houellebecq's Platform. But Burdett scorns the convenient fetish of victimhood so often present in writing about women like the ones who populate his book.
The New York Times
By turns sordid, disorienting and, at its heart, accepting and good-natured about our flawed human condition, Bangkok Tattoo is as seductive as Chanya, Nat, Marly, Lalita or any of the other girls at The Old Man's Club. And that's saying something. If you're looking for a good time, look no further.
The Washington Post
Bangkok’s red-light districts, perhaps the most infamous in the world, have inspired their share of breathless prose. Here, however, the tone is mordant, thanks to the serene narration of Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the Thai police detective who steered readers through Burdett’s previous novel, “Bangkok 8.” A devout Buddhist, Sonchai makes complex karmic calculations to justify his roles as law-bending cop and part-time papasan at his mother’s go-go bar. When the bar’s biggest moneymaker is suspected of killing her john, who turns out to be C.I.A., Sonchai initiates a coverup that eventually involves Muslim separatists in southern Thailand and American operatives eager to exploit post-9/11 paranoia for career advancement. The plot showcases Burdett’s sly riffs on Third World stereotypes, Buddhism, and the gustatory pleasures of fried grasshoppers. It’s a giddy, occasionally over-the-top performance, but mesmerizing: a comic tour of the underbelly of Bangkok in pursuit of both a murderer and the sublime.
In Burdett's brilliantly cynical mystery thriller, the follow-up to Bangkok 8 (2004), Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is called in by his supervisor, hard-bitten Captain Vikorn, to investigate the murder of a CIA operative, Mitch Turner, found disemboweled and mutilated. The prime suspect is a beautiful bar girl, Chanya, with whom Sonchai believes himself to be in love. When Turner's murder turns out to be far more complicated than originally thought, Sonchai must deal with his boss's rages and Chanya's gradually revealed secrets, along with CIA agents who have come to investigate the crime, a Thai army general with whom Vikorn has been feuding for years, Yakuza gangsters, Japanese tattooists, Muslim fundamentalists and more. Thoroughly familiar with Thailand, Burdett does an impressive job of depicting an often romanticized society from the inside out. His characters are unforgettable, his dialogue fast-paced and perfectly pitched, his numerous asides and observations generally as cutting as they are funny. Agent, Jane Gelfman. 9-city author tour. (May 16) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
In his second case (after Bangkok 8), Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep stumbles over a murdered CIA agent; what's worse, he's sweet on the main suspect. With a nine-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Another wacky, wild-side traipse through Thailand's fleshpots, eateries and spiritual havens, with the marvelously peculiar half-American, half-Thai Buddhist police detective. Burdett's sequel to Bangkok 8 (2003) begins with a wonderful opening line, "Killing customers just isn't good for business." The speaker is Det. Sonchai Jitpleecheep's mother Nong, who is disappointed that the Chanya, the irresistibly beautiful top-wage earner in the popular brothel, the Old Man's Club, seems to have castrated, flayed and murdered an opium-addled American, CIA Agent Mitch Turner. Sonchai's superior (and co-owner of the brothel), Colonel Vikorn, has a plan: blame it on al-Qaida. This doesn't sit well with a bunch of moderate Muslims, whose imam may have converted Turner to Islam. A pair of clueless CIA agents sent to investigate are more concerned with finding Turner's missing laptop, until one falls in love with Sonchai's mother and another, after a fling with a different Old Man's Club prostitute, is murdered in an identical fashion. Then there's Colonel Vikorn's rival, the dope-smuggling Army General Zinna, who doesn't want additional CIA spies to interfere with his plan to remove peasants from ancestral farmlands, all in order to make way for a Japanese eucalyptus plantation and disposable-chopsticks manufacturing plant. Stepping lightly between so many comically conflicted interests, Sonchai must also cope with a new partner, Lek, who can't quite decide if he should continue with police work or get a sex-change operation to become a "katoey" dancer. Burdett is gleefully entertaining as he uses Sonchai's Buddhist pragmatism to explore his exotically varied setting-the murders have something to dowith a diabolically ingenious tattoo artist hiding in Bangkok from spiritual and criminal demons. But he lets Sonchai's infatuation for the infinitely talented Chanya turn the story into a clever but tiring post-9/11 analysis of how American moralists like the bright, brawny but doomed Mitch Turner (and, by implication, his counterparts among the Muslim fundamentalists) can be so wrong when they're sure they're right. Baroquely complicated, and a bit too preachy but, otherwise, a wry, wise and wonderful romp. Author tour