John Burdett kind of exploded onto the thriller scene a few years back with his Bangkok 8, and he’s kept the adventures of conscience-ridden detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep flowing ever since. Vulture Peak is the latest installment.

Jitleecheep is a fascinating character. He’s half white–G.I. father–and his mother is a prostitute cum (pun intended) madame. Thus, he was raised in a whorehouse. His boss in completely corrupt, and his schemes to best a military rival in their competing criminal enterprises is central to the themes and action of the novels. Sonchai himself continually struggles both internally and externally with his efforts to maintain law and order while simultaneously keeping good relations with his corrupt commander. What is required of a good Buddhist in such a situation? A recurring dilemma.

The setup in Vulture Peak involves the harvesting and marketing of body parts. Where do  you get those hearts, kidneys, eyes people need and want for survival or merely for enhancement? A triple homicide in a huge mansion in Phuket leads our sensitive cop into the world of providers, sellers, and purchasers of such organs. The story that follows is grotesque, brutal, sometimes bordering on science fiction and paranormal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but the book isn’t properly set up for the motif, and so the disbelief doesn’t suspend so well. Science fiction often goes on to become reality, so I suppose this may (or may already have) become a great international problem. But I can’t get too excited.

I hadn’t touched Burdett for quite a while after the similar freakishness of Bangkok Tattoo put me off. I suppose this element increases sales, and power to Burdett, but it’s not so much my cup these days. In addition, Jitleecheep’s philosophical meanderings have become tiresome, and even the entry of a partner/wife hasn’t added enough dimension to the situation to satisfy. For my Asian crime fix, I’m now preferring more realistic excursions with Jake Needham’s Jack Shepherd and Sam Tay.


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