Monday, February 1, 2010

Review of BANGKOK EI8HT by John Burdett

For my first book in the Asian leg of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, I purchased a copy of John Burdett's BANGKOK EIGHT from the Kuala Lumpur airport, when on a stopover on the way home from Cairo to Auckland last month. I'd been looking for some Malaysian crime, given my location at the time, but Thailand was the best I could do from the airport bookstore.

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.


  1. Craig - Thanks very much for this fine review. I'm going to definitely have to try Burdett's work. I'm not familiar with it yet, but I intend to be.

  2. _Bangkok Tattoo_ is just as good. I haven't read the third one yet, but it's on my list. His mother is my favorite character, and his boss comes in second.

  3. I enjoyed reading your review and will make a note of this one. Many thanks

  4. Agreed Fred - I already have BANGKOK TATTOO, BANGKOK EIGHT, and THE GODFATHER OF KATHMANDU on my bookshelves at home - would have read them all already if I hadn't been concentrating on other books/countries for the Global Reading Challenge, and books of authors I was interviewing etc...

  5. Craig,

    Sounds like the old too many books and too few hours problem to me . . .