Monday, September 6, 2010
Review of Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett (Bantam Press, 2005)
For me, Bangkok Tattoo was a book of two halves. The first half was interesting and entertaining, immersing the reader in the sights and sounds of the seedier side of Bangkok. The story raced along and had plenty of intrigue and twists and turns. In the second half the story unravelled and lost focus and direction. The main plotline of the first half petered out and another thread came to dominate, and the story resorted more and more to show rather than tell, and less and less plausible. The ending redeemed things a little, but it still felt a little flat and relied on Jitpleecheep forgetting that he had a vital piece of evidence in his possession. In general, the characterisation is good, and Sonchai Jitpleecheep makes for an interesting central character, caught as he is between the worlds of the police and Bangkok nightlife, and American and Thai society, and the most of the other characters are colourful and engaging. The exception is the Americans who are stereotypical, dull and by the numbers military types. The observations of Thai society are informative, though I was somewhat dubious as to how prostitution, and lives and attitudes of the women who practice it, are portrayed. Whilst I have little doubt that the nature of prostitution in Thailand is different to that in the West, I’m not at all convinced that its quite as Burdett portrays it; that paying for sex is an unproblematic transaction in Thai society where women willing engage with little emotional damage or other consequences. After so much promise in the first half, it was a shame that the story fizzled out in the second. That said, I’m still going to check out the first book in the series, Bangkok 8, as it’s clear that Burdett can tell a good yarn, and there’s enough promise here to merit another outing.