Day 87: Bangkok Haunts

Cover of Bangkok HauntsBangkok Haunts is unlike any mystery I have ever read.  I heard about the series by John Burdett and wanted to try it but think perhaps it might have been best to start with the first one. (Bangkok Haunts is the third.) I had an ambivalent reaction to it but am willing to try reading another one.

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a devout Buddhist detective who tries to remain relatively straight in what is, according to one of the characters in the book, the world’s most corrupt police force. I say relatively because his mother is the proprietor of a brothel, where he helps out. He also keeps being pulled into the illegal schemes of his powerful boss, police captain Vikom.

A vicious snuff film is sent to Sonchai anonymously. He is horrified to see that the victim is Damrong, a prostitute with whom he was obsessed until she left him. Damrong’s ghost begins haunting him at night, even though he is living happily with his pregnant girlfriend. Sonchai is determined to bring Damrong’s murderers and those involved in the film to justice, even though Vikom is more interested in blackmail.

The novel’s Byzantine plot involves sorcery, Buddhist monks, an elite gentlemen’s club, Cambodian thugs, and some seriously disturbed individuals. For such dark material, the first person narration is oddly light in tone. However, the atmosphere and insights into Thai beliefs, modern life, and customs are rich and fascinating.

I did not buy at all the subplot about Sonchai’s FBI friend Kimberley Jones, who becomes obsessed with his assistant Lek. Lek is saving up for a sex-change operation, but Kimberley falls madly in love with him and keeps calling Sonchai to talk about how wrong the operation would be and to demand he talk Lek out of it. I can’t imagine that a woman who has fought her way into the FBI would be this susceptible and irrational–and unprofessional.

This novel is not for everyone, but I definitely think the unusual series is worth another look.

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