Summary and book reviews of Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

Bangkok Tattoo

By John Burdett

Bangkok Tattoo
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: May 2005,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2006,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

From the author of the best seller Bangkok 8, a head-spinning new novel that puts us back in the company of the inimitable Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep.

We return to District 8—the underbelly of Bangkok's underworld—where a dramatically mutilated dead body is found. It's bad: he was CIA. It gets worse: the murderer appears to be Chanya—a tough, sweet working girl who's the highest earner at The Old Man's Club, jointly owned by Sonchai's mother and his boss, Police Colonel Vikorn.

Alerted by Sonchai, Vikorn quickly concocts a cover-up that involves Al Qaeda and Thailand's porous southern border where, since 9/11, the CIA has been an obviously covert presence. But the truth will be harder to come by, and it will require Sonchai to find an ever-more-delicate balance between his ambition and his Buddhism, while running the gamut of Bangkok's drug dealers, prostitutes, bad cops, worse military, and the pitfalls of his own melting heart (Chanya!)—most of which he can handle. But even Sonchai is not prepared for what he discovers at the end of his investigation.

Piercingly smart and funny, densely atmospheric, and—as we already know to expect from John Burdett—packing a surprise at every turn, Bangkok Tattoo is sensational.

(Contains sexually explicit content)

Killing customers just isn't good for business."

My mother Nong's tone reflects the disappointment we all feel when a star employee starts to go wrong. Is there nothing to be done? Will we have to let dear Chanya go? The question can only be decided by Police Colonel Vikorn, who owns most of the shares in the Old Man's Club and who is on his way in his Bentley.

"No," I agree. Like my mother's, my eyes cannot stop flicking across the empty bar to the stool where Chanya's flimsy silver dress (just enough silk to cover nipples and butt) drapes and drips. Well, the dripping was slight and is more or less finished (a rusty stain on the floor turning black as it dries), but in more than a decade as a detective in the Royal Thai Police, I have never seen a garment so blood-soaked. Chanya's bra, also hideously splattered, lies halfway up the stairs, and her panties—her only other garment...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The strength of the series comes not only from the setting but Burdett's chief protagonist - Sonchai, probably the only policeman in town who doesn't take bribes, is a Buddhist whose investigative methods include dream messages from a former (now dead) partner and glimpses into his suspects' lives. To understand Sonchai and the country he works in we have to recalibrate our moral compass and put away our Westernized belief that we can to a greater or lesser extent control fate and instead accept the more philosophical Buddhist outlook - a religion that brings new meaning to the expression "better luck next time".   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Charles Taylor

Burdett's singular contribution to the contemporary mystery novel may be the way he breaks with the genre's judgmental puritanism when it comes to the sex trade.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

By turns sordid, disorienting and, at its heart, accepting and good-natured about our flawed human condition, Bangkok Tattoo is as seductive as Chanya, Nat, Marly, Lalita or any of the other girls at The Old Man's Club. And that's saying something. If you're looking for a good time, look no further.

The New Yorker

The plot showcases Burdett’s sly riffs on Third World stereotypes, Buddhism, and the gustatory pleasures of fried grasshoppers. It’s a giddy, occasionally over-the-top performance, but mesmerizing: a comic tour of the underbelly of Bangkok in pursuit of both a murderer and the sublime.

Publishers Weekly

[A] brilliantly cynical mystery thriller.....His characters are unforgettable, his dialogue fast-paced and perfectly pitched, his numerous asides and observations generally as cutting as they are funny.

Booklist - Bill Ott

You've read a few Italian mysteries, and you think you know what moral ambiguity is all about. Time for a trip to District 8 in the heart of Bangkok's sex district...The plot is incredibly elaborate, but it doesn't faze Sonchai, who reacts to so many opposing ideas dancing madly on the head of the same pin with a kind of Buddhist calm.

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Beyond the Book

At the age of 50 John Burdett gave up his life as a partner in a premier law firm with a luxury apartment on "The Peak" in Hong Kong, sold his worldly possessions and set out to try his hand at what he'd wanted to do all along - write books.  He is now about 55 and the author of four books including the two Bangkok thrillers starring Sonchai Jitpleecheep.  He was born in North London, his father was a policeman, his mother a seamstress - and writing was obviously in his blood from an early age - when he was about 8 his teacher asked him to write a few sentences about himself, he responded with a 20-page document! 

He read literature at the University of Warwick, on graduating in 1973 he considered trying...

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