Adrian Magson is the author of 19 works of fiction and Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book. His series include the Harry Tate spy thrillers and the Lucas Rocco French police novels. His latest thriller is ‘The Watchman’, the first in a new series featuring protection specialist Marc Portman. The sequel – ‘Close Quarters’ – is out in April 2015.
The latest of John Burdett’s Bangok series opens with his central character, Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, investigating a triple homicide at an exclusive mansion on Vulture Peak near Phuket. But this is no ordinary killing; the dead bodies have been stripped of a variety of organs, even their faces, making any identification difficult to impossible. This unusual case plunges us into the main theme, which is the growing and very lucrative trade in body parts going on across SE Asia.
Ordered by his boss, Colonel Vikorn to look into this booming business, (odd, because Sonchai knows Vikorn has his fingers in many dirty pies, the trade in spare organs being one of them) he leaves Bangkok for Dubai with instructions to find out all he can about the illegal trade in everything from eyeballs to complete faces. To do so, he must contact the Yip sisters, known not unreasonably, as it turns out, as the Vultures. Beautiful and absolutely identical, they have a very unusual line in self-gratification that would have most men running for the hills. You have been warned.
As usual, Sonchai, the product of an American father and Thai madame mother, sees life from both cultures. And in this case he really finds himself torn between extremes. From the bizarre (to western eyes, anyway) beliefs and events he is forced to confront on a daily basis, including his deeply corrupt and self-serving boss, Vikorn, and his boss, General Zinna; to a trio of American campaign specialists assisting Vikorn to become Governor; assorted policemen, including Lek, Sonchai’s katoey or transexual colleague who dreams of undergoing gender re-assignment; and the deadly Yip sisters and their collection of body parts. Throw in the humble and caring attitude to life and the hereafter demanded by Sonchai’s Buddhist upbringing, and it’s no great surprise that he finds things a little stressful.
Yet he survives, against the odds and to the great puzzlement of those around him, most of whom are heartily open to bribery and corruption on an epic scale, when he is most definitely not.
Talking to us (we are regularly addressed as Dear Farang Reader – or DFR for short) in a very personal manner, we are allowed into Sonchai’s confidence, although never really certain whether they are his thoughts or beliefs, or whether we’re merely a sounding board.
But that is part of the subtle attraction of this series: on one hand we have the almost mystical approach to life of Sonchai and those around him, and on the other, the daily grind (if you’ll excuse the pun) of the ever-present sex industry and the bizarre and vicious crimes he is forced to confront, involving an endless string of truly strange characters. Overlaying that, however, is the constant presence of (dark) humour permeating even the bleakest of moments.