Burdett, John. Bangkok 8. Knopf, 2003, 318 p.

Ostensibly a mystery novel, Burdett uses the mystery as a mechanism for ruminations on the nature of life in southeast Asia versus life in the West. He treats us to a hard-edged, fascinating view of Bangkok in the early 21st century and seems to say, "Hey, you hyper-rational guys in the West, take a look at us and learn."

Burdett's detective is policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheep, an inconsistent Buddhist, and a rarity among Bangkok police officers, an honest public servant. Sonchai navigates the muddy ethical and moral thickets posed by the murder of a black Army sergent. Carried out in an imaginative way involving pythons and cobras, Sonchai's job is not only to figure out who and why but how the snakes were made to act as if on cue. It's a fascinating journey and an odyssey into a culture and philosophy only slightly known to Westerners. Take a ride with Burdett. It's worth the time and effort.


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