In the end, I was completely stoked that I ended up picking up Burdett's debut, which introduces his unique hero, Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a fair-skinned Thai and a devout Buddhist who commutes daily between the sacred precepts of his religion and the profane delights the city has to offer.
In BANGKOK EIGHT, Jitpleecheep's partner and 'soul brother' is killed when the pair come across an African-American marine sergeant locked inside a Mercedes with a maddened python and a swarm of cobras. Sworn to vengeance, Jitpleecheep, works his into the moneyed underbelly of Bangkok, where desire rules and the human body is as custom-designable as a raw hunk of jade - and where Sonchai eventually tracks the killer, a predator of an even more sinister variety.
Quite simply, BANGKOK EIGHT is one of the best debut novels I've read in a long, long time. It stays with you after you finish reading it. The writing is fresh and original, as are the characters, and Burdett does a great job weaving both the halluconigenic and contradictory atmosphere of Bangkok, and some interesting philosophical questions, into the exciting storyline.
Jitpleecheep is very much a character worth following - full of unique touches and contradictory emotions and actions - a fully-rounded protagonist that I will enjoying reading more about throughout the series. Burdett seems to have struck that great balance between exciting storyline, interesting characters, evocative description, and good dialogue and wider insights, that writers in the upper echelon of the crime fiction canon have mastered, eg Michael Connelly, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, James Lee Burke etc. BANGKOK EIGHT is not a book where one strong aspect overwhelms or overshadows other weaker ones - it's a fully-rounded story from an excellent writer. Highly recommended.
Soon after returning to New Zealand, I immediately went out and got my hands on some more of Burdett's series featuring Jitpleecheep; BANGKOK TATTOO and BANGKOK HAUNTS. I'm looking forward to reading them, but I haven't used them for my second Asian novel in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, as I want to use a different country, and different author for the Expert Level.