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Bangkok Tattoo    by John Burdett order for
Bangkok Tattoo
by John Burdett
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

John Burdett's debut in Bangkok 8 brought something unusual to mystery readers - a police procedural set in a system rife with corruption, with a cop protagonist atoning for a past murder. District 8 Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a contradiction - a deeply spiritual antihero, who interacts on a daily basis with the dross of a city dealing in drugs and prostitution, and sees other people through the layered misdeeds of their past lives.

While Bangkok Tattoo lacks the shock factor that novelty gave the first episode, they are matched in twisting plot, and in emphasizing how little West is ever capable of understanding East. At the end of the first book, Sonchai's mother Nong and his astute boss, Police Colonel Vikorn, partnered to establish an 'Old Man's Club'. Their idea was to exploit the 'hidden business opportunities of Viagra' via a new customer base of aging men. The problem is that the drug worked too well, and these 'horny old codgers' are exhausting the club's whores and shrinking profit margins. So the owners are anxious to protect their staff, in particular their superstar employee, the enchanting Chanya.

As the story opens, Chanya shows up from an assignation with a farang, an American CIA operative named Mitch Turner. She's covered in gore, admits to murder, and takes refuge in an opium pipe. Vikorn invents a statement, claiming self-defense, and sends her out of town till things cool down. Sonchai's fondness for Chanya drives him to investigate, his main clue being a hint to 'Look for Don Buri' from his dead partner and soul brother Pichai (killed in Bangkok 8). Complicating his search for the truth are CIA agents looking for Al Qaeda, moderate Thai Muslims who knew Turner, a long-running feud between Colonel Vikorn and the equally corrupt General Zinna, and the angst of new cadet Lek who's coming to terms with being transsexual.

Sonchai wonders why the victim's back was flayed. He finds out that Chanya spent time with Turner in America, and tries to keep the Americans from fixating on an Islamic connection. The solution is a surprise, one I didn't see coming. And the episode concludes with 'no ending and therefore no period', leaving the bemused reader to look forward to the intriguing possibility of a meeting between Sonchai and his American dad.

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