19 December 2010
While Waiting for the Next John Burdett
There are plenty of writers giving us the "real" Bangkok, especially the prostitutes and the bars of Soi Cowboy, the "corrupt" police (or, it's just a different way of moving matters forward), the slums, the bugs, the CIA covert operations, the mysticism, the farang -- foreigners, trying to escape something in the past, present and/or future. Fans of John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep should check out Christopher G Moore's Colonel Prachai "Pratt" Chongwatana, farang debarred attorney & detective Vincent Calvino's best friend. Moore's style is entirely different from Burdett, definitely less mystical and Thai-POV philosophical. The writing is definitely from a farang-POV, and really, how often does Vincent have to tell us, "But this is Bangkok?" However, it is a satisfying read to broaden the Thai-American experience (although Burdett is Canadian). Asia Hand is not the first in the series, but I am not one of those who needs to start from the very beginning, and Moore at least works at making each title a stand-alone book. Yes, he does mention what has happened in the past, but Moore is one of the few serial writers who hasn't annoyed me with a blatant recap of the previous four of five titles in every ninth paragraph. And speaking of "corrupt" police, Moore lays out in patient detail (maybe too much for some readers) just how police have to negotiate the treacherous politics (an American word, for lack of knowledge of the proper Thai terminology) and relations within their own departments as well as of greater Bangkok and Thailand. Then, succinctly, as Kiko, Vincent's Japanese girlfriend comes to bail him out of jail, but cannot read the Thai form in order to complete it. The desk sergeant offers to complete it for her. She offers him 500 baht for his assistance with the implication that for this consideration, he will make sure to fill in the blanks as favorably as possible. He tells her he can only accept 20 baht. You see, corruption is in the eye of the beholder.