by Bruce TierneyJune, 2003
Mystery of the month
June's Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to John Burdett for his brilliant novel Bangkok 8. The scene: a steamy day, a Bangkok bridge. Homeless people mill around a shiny Mercedes hatchback, apparently abandoned. A Bangkok cop sidles up to have a closer look; he and his partner have been tailing the Mercedes for most of the day. What he sees shocks and sickens him: a huge python has completely engulfed the driver's head in its mouth and is attempting to swallow him whole. The cop instinctively tears the door open, never anticipating the swarm of angry cobras that launch themselves at him from the interior of the car. The bite of the cobra is lethal and swift; within moments, the cop lies dead. From this point, the intensity never lets up. The book is an edge-of-the-seat, 52-chapter, e-ticket ride. For most, that would be sufficient reason to read Bangkok 8, but the gods, they say, live in the details, and the details are what set this book apart. The protagonist, Sonchai Jitleecheep, is a study in contradictions. The half-caste son of an unidentified Western father and a Patpong prostitute, educated in France, Sonchai is a devout Buddhist with a taste for yaa-baa, a locally produced amphetamine. Corruption is everywhere; everything is for sale, at a price. Burdett's command of the language is superb, and the book is intoxicating on every level, laced with expat insights into the contradictory and surreal milieu that is Bangkok.