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Bangkok Haunts    by John Burdett order for
Bangkok Haunts
by John Burdett
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Bangkok Haunts, John Burdett mixes past horrors with an incredibly strong spirit whose passion for vengeance spills damage (direct and collateral) across many lives. It's an unusual scenario, blending the grotesque with the mystical. As in the earlier two books in the series, Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo, East meets West on many fronts, resulting in regular culture shock for series characters, as well as occasional flashes of insight.

The series stars Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, son of a Thai whore and a rather mysterious American, a lawyer who fathered him while on leave from Vietnam (Sonchai has recently contacted the man, who keeps delaying a planned meeting). A deeply spiritual Buddhist, Sonchai nevertheless helps his mother Nong run a bar, The Old Man's Club. He's now married to the lovely Chanya, who's pregnant with a baby ('the Lump') they both believe to be the incarnation of Sonchai's dead partner and soul brother, Pichai. The detective's current police partner is the engaging and sensitive transsexual Lek.

This episode opens on Sonchai and FBI agent Kimberley Jones watching a snuff film, whose star and victim, Damrong, once worked in Nong's brothel. Oddly, there are no signs of struggle on the corpse. Sonchai, along with a legion of other men, was obsessed with Damrong for a time, and it's painful for him to deal with her murder, and especially with the way she died. Adding to his personal turmoil, he's plagued by erotic dreams involving her spirit. Sonchai discovers that Damrong was married to an American, now living in Thailand, and finds links to very powerful men worldwide, represented by an English lawyer operating in Bangkok.

At the same time, corrupt Police Colonel Vikorn gets Sonchai involved in an extracurricular project involving porn films. Kimberley develops a peculiar interest in Lek. A young monk hangs out near the police station, frequents an Internet café, and hands out elephant hair bracelets to select individuals. There are more deaths, and the investigation takes Sonchai to Cambodia where it all began. Just as James Clavell did for Japan and China in novels like Shogun and Tai-Pan, Burdett makes us believe that we're seeing the world through Thai eyes in this powerful Bangkok series. Don't miss it.

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