Bangkok Tattoo

Bangkok Tattoo

by John Burdett

I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation, the book is Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett. This is Burdett’s second novel set in the red light district of Bangkok and featuring the half American, devout Buddhist detective Sonchai. This time it’s one of his mother’s girls — she’s a famously wealthy madam — who is in deep trouble, apparently having brutally murdered, in fact dismembered her American military lover. To unravel the mystery, Sonchai will have to put himself in the path of a seemingly demonic crazed Japanese tattoo artist, angry Muslims, and the American military, who think the angry Muslims are the culprits. Along the way we experience the crowds and the unrelenting heat, the alienness of the Far East, with lessons in diplomacy, thai cuisine, and a cast of characters both exotic and real.


I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Take Five. The book is Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett.

 
For some reason, when I turn on the TV, even the news — especially the news, I don’t believe a thing. It’s either a flack or a shill or it’s done with CGI. But when I read a book, I believe every word. I go in assuming that the author has done meticulous research, and any mistake they might have accidentally made was caught by a fearless and tireless editor. Every word is polished like a jewel, and all the facts are checked. I like living in that world, actually. Writers are my friends and they wouldn’t lie to me. In fact, I have learned a huge amount about the world through fiction. It sounds like a contradiction, but when I suspend my reality, I suspend it all the way.

  Now, that doesn’t mean I really believe that if you aren’t a muggle you can take the train to Hogwarts — okay, maybe I believe it a little bit — but I like to go in assuming that the world between the covers is built on a framework of facts.

 
With that in mind, I was eager to read Bangkok Tattoo, because John Burdett’s first novel in the series about  Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep , Bangkok 8, was as foreign as you can get from my middle class American experience and still be on the same planet, while remaining honest and real. Bangkok Tattoo is an immersive tour of the seedy underbelly of the city, District 8, the home of the red light district. It’s also the home of Detective Sonchai — immaculately honest, striving Buddhist, half-American son of a never-met father and the most famous and successful madam in the district. This is what I’m talking about as far as trusting the author — places I’ll probably never go, and people I’ll never meet, with attitudes so un-West, yet approached with such a sure hand that I feel almost at home in this steamingly tropical, utterly exotic place. I’m talking about little things, like I learned that the hands together at the chest, small bow of greeting is called a wai, and depending on how you do it, you can imply different kinds of relationships with it. Or what the best kind of local beer is, or where to get the best designer clothing knockoffs. I also learned about the effect Viagra had on the Far East sex trade. And the vast difference in attitude between East and West regarding that trade. Sonchai has nothing but respect for his hardworking, clever mother. She and the women who work in the bars are honest after all. Until the lovely bar girl Chanya seems to have brutally murdered one of her clients — that’s not so honest. And the client was a US government agent.  Sonchai’s boss in District 8, the brilliantly corrupt and completely charming Colonel Vikorn, comes up with an alibi that is cheerfully cynical and guaranteed to play well with the US agents on the case — that terrorists did it. And making things more complicated are Sonchai’s growing feelings for Chanya, a girl with a past and dangerous secrets.

 
Most of the foreigners in this book are clearly and seriously out of their elements, and while Sonchai has a bit of a sneer in his voice when he talks about them, he’s got an expert eye for the finest in Western style, and can’t ressit trying to track down his mysterious American father. He struggles to remain an honest cop and a good Buddhist, as he unravels the mystery of the dead American with the missing Bangkok tattoo.

 
Want to talk about books? Email me at Kim dot Alexander at xmradio.com.


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