Book Review – Bangkok 8 (John Burdett)

Bangkok 8

Bangkok 8 – the title clearly gives away the setting of the plot. But is the book as exciting as the city itself?

Bangkok 8 is a mystic murder (snakes no less) mystery with its protagonist and narrator being an eastern police officer, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. Even though he follows Buddhist principles, he’s been brought up in a more cosmopolitan culture, thanks to him being the son of an erstwhile prostitute. This story is his quest for revenge for the death of his partner.

What makes Sonchai’s narration interesting is that even though he is an integral part of the infamous flesh trade of Bangkok, he despises it and chooses to view it from the sidelines. This fact gives us a very detached and objective view of the dark world and its inner mechanisms. Despite the oft held opinion, we get to know that Thai women are not forced to delve into this lucrative trade and willingly make it a career option. We also get an understanding of the Thai attitude towards sex, of how Thai women might be the most progressive among their counterparts in other countries, of how despite being in this cut throat trade, they have the utmost professionalism and camaraderie between them and that it isn’t an easy career option and requires every bit of hard work as any other career.

John Burdett shows off his knowledge about the city and its culture throughout the novel. And since he’s a westerner, we also get to view things from both eastern and western perspectives and their conflicting values and styles of working. He deftly portrays the inner workings of the city and of the police force that’s marred with corruption; and why and how this works wonderfully for them as well as for the people of the city. John successfully marries the murder mystery track with the cultural and spiritual one to give the reader a glimpse of Bangkok city beyond its attractive façade.

A good, if not a must read. Some memorable quotes:

  • The future is impenetrable, says the Buddha.
  • Hope or haste comes from the devil, slowness comes from Buddha.
  • The dharma teaches us the impermanence of all phenomena, but you cannot prepare yourself for the loss of phenomenon you love more than yourself.
  • Hit dirt with a stick and you will certainly spread it.
  • You will not make a good death is a power curse; it makes fuck you sound like a benediction.
  • I do not explain the endless cycle of life after life, each one a reaction against some imbalance from the one before, that reaction setting up yet another imbalance and so on and on. We are the pinballs of eternity.
  • Human beings are predators, we like to hunt and eat the weak so we can feel strong for a moment.
  • Magic is preindustrial. I feel sorry for the FBI and her belief that there is anything logical about human existence. It’s like choosing a ringtone, a logical labyrinth with no meaningful outcome. Logic is distraction.
  • Actually the west is the culture of emergency: twisters in Texas, earthquakes in California, wind-chill in Chicago, draught, flood, famine, epidemics, drugs, wars on everything. Of course if you didn’t believe you could control everything , their wouldn’t be an emergency, would there?
  • Everyone is dumb outside their own frame of references.
  • Gautama Buddha was the greatest salesman in history. He was selling nothing. That’s what “nirvana” means: nothing. As the cure for the great cosmic disaster most of us call life, he prescribed a rigorous course of meditation and perfect living over any number of lifetimes, with nothing as its final reward.
  • The greatest pleasure in life is to be understood, is it not?
  • The mind likes truth. It will work quite hard to make the connections, once the pieces are all on board.
  • Waiting is difficult only for those beset by the delusion of time.
  • The east has more patience, more history, more cunning, more sorcery – and gets the sun 1 hours before the west does. How could west ever win?