Sunday, October 28, 2007

Criminally good.

Anybody who has stepped into an Asia Books branch or spent any time in
a Bangkok Airport bookstore will know that books about the seedy
underside of Bangkok are not in short supply.

Second-rate crime thrillers fill the shelves, released by publishing
houses of dubious provenance, invariably featuring as characters a
series of alcohol-soaked long-term Bangkok residents and their bar-
girl companions.

When I saw it on the shelves, it was tempting to dismiss John
Burdett's 'Bangkok 8' as just another in the genre. And even when it
was lent to me by an individual whose taste in books I would usually
have every faith in, I still felt no desire to open its pages.

One quiet Sunday afternoon, with nothing very much else to do until an
evening appointment, I picked it up and started to read. Eight hours
later, in exactly the same position on the sofa, my rendezvous
cancelled and my head spinning with previously unknown images of
Bangkok as well as mind-bending glimpses of incomprehensible Buddhist/
animist concepts, I put the completed book down.

This is much more than a detective novel. It is an insight into the
Thai mind which would not be available to a person even if he lived
here for decades.

The book will have you wondering how on earth John Burdett was able to
gain such an understanding and, indeed, if he is not actually a Thai
writing under an English nom de plume.

I read an excellent interview with him last week in the International
Herald Tribune and all was revealed: he is a former lawyer, a son of a
London policeman and a part-time resident of Thailand with a Thai
girlfriend. His partner must be very generous with her education of
Thai ways for him to have gained such understanding.

The article revealed that his books are destined to be made into films
very soon: I will be the first in the line at the box office on
opening day.

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