John Burdett may be the top English-wrting mystery novelist specializing in Asia. With due respect to Graham Greene (Burdett is not of his caliber) his Quiet American is I believe his only Asian work. Burdett, on the other hand, has written a compelling mystery set in the final days of Hong Kong’s possession by the British (The Last Six Million Seconds) and now three novels featuring his Thai/American Bhuddist-pimp detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. The other two–Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo—made for juicy reading, even if Tattoo was a bit contrived. I was glad to see Haunts come along and look forward to the next one.
Burdett’s books have a unique texture because in the course of solving crimes, Jitpleecheep does a lot of meditating and philosophizing about what he’d doing, why, and what effect he’s having on the whole human condition. He also does a lot of mediating between east and west (in the person of a female FBI agent), himself embodying some of the cross-cultural contradictions because he’s the the son of a Thai madame and an American G.I. Thus, readers can imagine they’re getting an initiation into the Thai/Asian mind as well as into the mystery at hand.
There’s a lot of sex and interesting violence to go along with the philosophy, and Bangkok Haunts is unique in that it involves ghosts (hence the title.) One ghost in particular, whom (which?) I can’t describe without giving up too much of the story. I challenge anyone to come away from this without being entertained. Even enlightened, if you buy Burdett’s brand of Buddhism. It’s an airplane book, and it will give you a hell of a ride.