Friday, March 28, 2014

Vulture Peak by John Burdett

Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #5) Burdett does something memorable in this episode of his Bangkok series (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #5). He introduces two of the most interesting character creations he’s had in years: the bipolar and incisively intelligent Inspector Chan of the Hong Kong police force, and the incomparably sophisticated Detective San Bin of the Shanghai police. Mind you, these two men are creations of a Western mind, but they are everything a reader wants in a detective: very smart and very sly, with an unparalleled streak of righteous vengeance and duty to protect.

It’s been awhile since I have visited Burdett’s world, and perhaps I did not choose an auspicious time. His somewhat loose narrative and rants about the sex trade in Thailand didn’t hold up well next to the heavy-duty nonfiction I have been immersed in lately, but gradually I relaxed enough to acknowledge the points he was making. I just finished watching the third series of Danish TV called Borgen, where the same questions Sonchai’s wife, Chen Mai, is researching for her doctorate are being considered, e.g., prostitution as a woman’s right rather than exploitation. So Burdett is quite topical, and not just in the tropics.

The bulk of this mystery, however, is about international organ trafficking, always a topic that arouses strong emotions and means money changing unsavory hands. For the first time our Buddhist hero, Sonchai, travels overseas: to Dubai, Monte Carlo (!), Hong Kong and Shanghai. We meet a pair of Chinese doyens who specialize in organs, transplanted or otherwise, and this adds to the unreality of the scenes he conjures. Undoubtedly some of the research is true (six-star hotels in Dubai, for instance) but it seemed just a little ‘out there’ for me to get scared.

Again, his character creations for Chinese cops are ground-breaking in my experience and I’d love to come across them again. It almost seems Burdett could colonize some new territory if he wanted to move to Shanghai, for instance.

A word about the ending, in which Chen Mai’s friend Dorothy features: seems a little ‘out there,’ and yet another figment of a western man’s mind. We learn more about Burdett than human nature, perhaps, but…ain’t it always the way?

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