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Book review: <i>Bangkok Tattoo</i> by John Burdett

Who could resist the title, really? And I'll be the first to admit, I selected this one based purely on the exciting bright yellow dust jacket and equally funfilled hot-pink stripe down the spine. We all have to judge a book by it's cover now and then. And this one certainly wasn't the unmittigated disaster other such judgements have been. I certainly wasn't unhappy to have selected it, and it was rollicking and funfilled and I really enjoyed to plot, but threre was something fishy about the actual writing techniques that I found difficult to reconcile with.

The content

Bangkok Tattoo is set in Bangkok (yes, really) and follows the story of Sonchai Jitpleecheep; police officer by day, papasan in the family brothel by night. One evening, their best girl Chanya comes in from a trick covered in the blood of a CIA agent who was posted in the south to keep an eye on the Muslims. Why did she do it? Can they still keep her on? And how can Sonchai and his boss Colonel Vikorn best present all this to the CIA when they inevitably and inexpertly come sniffing around? The story artfully winds through a story of mystery, murder, love, prostitutes, police and army feuds, drug deals gone wrong, revenge killings, and the Japanese Yakuza - and of course, a collection of amazing tattoos.

Certain elements of Bangkok Tattoo are artfully done. The writing is good enough that it vividly paints Bangkok and the other couple of places in frenetic and busy detail. The story is intruiging and busy and extremely complex, so it certainly isn't boring, and the storyline is fairly original with enough twists to keep the reader occupied. And while I occasionally had problems with the characters (either too stereotyped or too out there) the writing was tongue in cheek enough that this fitted in nicely with the whole busy plot and the vivid setting. I also thoroughly enjoy the religious overtones in the book - lots of Buddhist (the main characters were all Buddhist) ritual placed into the daily lives of the characters in a fairly commonplace way, and the Muslims and Christians were given their own personal beliefs; nobody was stereotyped religiously which made for good reading.

My major problem with the story was the first person narration by Sonchai... as sounding very much like a confused white non-Thai. Sonchai went out of his way to describe the Thai way to the reader, who he addresses as Farang, however at times the narration sounds strained, and as though the author is trying to justify his own issues (such as morality) through what he has percieved to be the "Thai Way". While I would never assume to know how Thai prostitutes view their profession, I wouldn't imagine they all just love it because the "Thai Way" doesn't have as much prudishness as the west - as the author seems to do. Also, making judgements about the American psyche is fine - but every time Sonchai said something smug about the Thai way or the American way, his face kept morphing into the face of John Burdett as pictured on the dust jacket. I'm not saying Thai's DON'T feel that way, but some of the narration didn't feel like the protagonist was actually the narrator, which was a bit disappointing. It just lacked a certain authenticity. This may have been contributed to by the fact that my copy of Bangkok Tattoo had all the really obviously "Deep Philosophical" bits underlined by some annoying idiot - which made them even more pretentious in my mind. Aside from this, if you don't want to delve too deeply, good read.

Who is this book for?

Want a good read that will keep you on your toes plot-wise, paint a vivid and exotic Thailand for you, and will keep you distracted until the end of the book? Here it is! Just ignore the annoying bits, you can do it!

If you like this book, you would also like...

I can't really think of any titles off the top of my head. I'll get back to you.

In short

Title: Bangkok Tattoo
Author: John Burdett
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 1400040450
Year published: 2005
Pages: 302
Review Type: 


Bangkok Eight (or Bangkok Ei8ht) is from the same author and the first part of the series... definitely to read if you love Burdett.
I live in Shanghai and they don't sell Bangkok Tattoo here... if anyone wants to mail me their book, it would be awesome!!! lol I'll send Bangkok 8 in return!!!! :o)