Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett
Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police returns in Bangkok Tattoo to guide the Western (particularly American) mind through the underbelly of Bangkok as he did in Bangkok 8. Told from a distinctly different point of view, we see the culture clash of East vs. West in a hardboiled crime thriller that hits on some of the most poignant issues facing the world today.
In addition to his role as a trusted detective and gifted linguist under the service of the ever brilliant, entertaining, and corrupt Colonel Vikorn, Sonchai also serves as papasan in the Old Man’s Club – a brothel run by his mother and financed by Vikorn. The star performer, Chanya, of the club has murdered a farang (Westerner to us) who turns out to be a CIA agent. Realizing what is coming, Vikorn and Sonchai cover up the details of the murder in a web that soon spins out of control as Muslims from the south are eventually implicated while Chanya’s past in America is slowly revealed.
The murder mystery forming the backbone of Bangkok Tattoo is improved over Bangkok 8, but still nothing I’d call extraordinary. As with Bangkok 8, the true genius of this book is Sonchai’s unique vision of Thailand as it is shared with the reader. Biting criticism and humorous sarcasm are inserted as he recounts events to us, a Western audience. The West’s misunderstanding of the East and short-sightedness following the tragic events of 9-11 are revealed in a world of apparent moral ambiguity beyond our comprehension. As I said in my previous review, I’m in no place to say if Burdett gets it right, but feels like he does.
Fans of mystery and those seeking an adventure through a strange and real world in Southeast Asia should look no further than Bangkok Tattoo. While it is a sequel, it stands nicely on its own. Take a trip through the back alleys of Bangkok, through whore houses and tattoo parlors, into the Muslim south, on a Buddhist journey with a voice unlike anything you’ve heard before. Bangkok Tattoo scores 8.5 out of 10 – highly recommended.