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by John Burdett
Bantam, June 2005
369 pages
ISBN: 0593051629

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Former British lawyer John Burdett gives the reader the opportunity to sample once more the delights of Thailand in this follow-up to his colourful BANGKOK 8. His protagonist is once again Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep -- although this time there is no reference that I could see to the policeman being an arhat or Buddhist saint.

Sonchai is, together with his mother Nong and his boss, police chief Colonel Vikorn, involved in running a bar -- more or less a euphemism for brothel -- the brilliantly conceived (so to speak) Old Man's Club which caters to a frustrated older clientele by providing them with chemical enhancement to promote lust.

The trio is somewhat put about to discover the corpse of a client while the girl whose 'bar fine' was paid by said client claims responsibility for the killing. It is even more distressing for them to ascertain that the dead man was a CIA operative.

Colonel Vikorn invents a reasonably convincing statement for Chanya, the bar employee, to sign. Sonchai, however, is dispatched to Muslim-controlled southern Thailand where he learns disquieting facts about the life of Mitch Turner. The doughty detective also find himself coming to an agreement with the local Muslim cleric that will protect the political status quo of the area.

Two living representatives of the CIA clumsily pursue their own investigation into the death of their colleague. Despite their evident mistrust of Sonchai and his superiors, both professional and family, they allow themselves to be seduced by the myths spun for their benefit.

This, like its predecessor, contains a many layered plot. Unlike BANGKOK 8, there is not a great deal of emphasis on police procedure but a considerable amount on the functioning of the bar, the Old Man's Club. The first book of the series introduced the reader to the outlook and work ethic of the Thai girls who sell their bodies in order to support their families and provide a better life than their own for younger siblings.

The notion of the katoey, the transsexuals who also sell their services in Krung Thep (the local name for Bangkok) is also expanded by way of the ambitions of Lek, the young police cadet assigned to Sonchai. Sonchai once more relies on inspiration from his dead friend and former colleague Pichai, who attempts to help Sonchai solve the mystery.

While the puzzle is inventive, the background to the tale is equally so. Burdett has vividly portrayed the culture of Bangkok although he reassures the reader that, so far as he knows, the police force is unsullied by corruption. Rivalry between army and police is depicted and the way a bar girl may make a fortune by travelling overseas is credibly sketched.

The reader may well assume further adventures of Sonchai will be forthcoming as there are some plot hooks left without meat. It will be a pleasant experience in the future to see just what hazards await the representatives of law and disorder in the capital of Thailand.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, May 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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