Heard about John Burdett from a Pinoy writer who, apart from having developed such toxic, anger-inducing snobbery that she doesn’t seem to have any plans of overcoming, does have a penchant for recommending good reads.
I came across a John Burdett novel called “Bangkok Tattoo” at the SM Booksale in Baguio,pretty much the only place you can find a John Burdett novel in Baguio. I had tried to look for one at National Bookstore and they didn’t have it. Then again, they’ve run out of the “Watchmen” comic books, so why did I expect more from them? I am looking for the Buffy Season 8 comic books but of course why the hell would I find them in Baguio? Good luck finding them at CID and Jet Bookstore, too!
So, the sardonic, cynical, morally ambiguous and ambivalent hero of the “Bangkok Tattoo” novel is the corrupt, co-owner of a prostitution club, Sonchai Jittlecheepeep (?) who, incidentally, also seems to have a heart of gold.
The plot: a series of seemingly random murders involving flayed victims slowly reveal that they are not so random at all. All of the skinned victims have been stripped of their awesome tattoos, and these tattoos seem to all connect to a beautiful, enigmatic Thai prostitute, who, in turn is connected to the genius Japanese tattoo artist whose signature tattoos were on the bodies that were murdered. Sonchai must solve the mystery and fend off a possibly polarizing situation since one of the murdered is a CIA operative, whose death is being suspiciously and deliberately linked to the Al Quaeda and the Moslem contingent of Thailand, of which Thailand has a lot of.
What makes the novel interesting: Where do I start? The fact that it centers on tattoos is one. The fact that the main character is a Thai is another. The fact that for a British writer, Burdett seems to have understood the Asian psyche well, but does not condescend is another. The fact that he has created a novel that is objective, but never moralizing, pedantic, preachy, annoying, offensive, but still manages to be thought-provoking is another. The fact that the main character, Sonchai, may ostensibly be cynical but deep inside yearns to be good is another. The fact that in this novel, Burdett has captured the consistent inconsistences and the peculiar merging of Eastern and Western consciousness seamlessly through the marriage of Buddhism and eastern mysticism and western materialism, along with poverty and prostitution and spirituality and sex and culture is another. The fact that while this may be a murder crime thriller (and a good one at that), it still manages to be entertaining, page-turning and riveting is another.
This is one awesome book you would like to have.
Made me want to get another tattoo actually.