Where do we go from here?
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
This novel is the fourth in John Burdett's series of mysteries set in Bangkok. Burdett's protagonist is Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, son of an American father and a Thai mother. Sonchai is a devout Buddhist, he calls himself a monk manqué, and it is this aspect of the novels more than anything else that keeps me waiting for the next one. These novels are gritty, to say the least, grisly is actually more accurate. The strange thing is that they are also quite spiritual at the same time. Sonchai's quest to become ever more enlighted, to be a good person, making merit, living according to the teachings of Theravada Buddhism is not easy, living, as he does, in the midst of such astounding corruption and squalor, in a city awash in the sex and drug trades, a police force that aids and abets both undertakings, Sonchai's efforts towards his spiritual goals are every bit as absorbing (possibly even more so) as his efforts to solve the fantastically horrible crimes he is assigned by Col. Vikorn, at once his boss and nemesis.
It is the character of Sonchai that makes me love these books. John Burdett's own essay on how he came to write this Bangkok series explains a lot. It is clear that he has immersed himself in the life of the city about which he writes, and the philosophy of his main character. Theravada Buddhism is an ancient study of human consciousness,"a radically honest and penetrating assessment of the human condition" which I find fascinating, even inviting. Sonchai finds in it a way to cope with the moral ambiguity of much of his life, with the pain and suffering that surrounds him, with his own divided nature, being half Thai, half farang. The story in this book wanders around Asia, introduces way too many fantastical characters, and is, ultimately, quite farfetched. Nonetheless, Sue Grafton's newest alphabetical mystery starring Kinsey Milhone in coastal California just isn't grabbing my soul by the neck and leaving me panting for more the way that Burdett's anguished detective always does.
Read more about Burdett and his books in this NYT article: John Burdett: Detective writer at work in a seedy Bangkok district. (Photo from Photo Gallery at Burdett's website.)