Sanchai Jipecheap #1: “Bangkok 8” by John Burdett. Bangkok detectives, Sanchai Jipecheap and Pichai Aparidee are following a black American Marine, William Bradley under orders from Colonel Vikorn, but they don’t know why. They lose track of the embassy marine several times in the heavy Bangkok traffic, once when he picks up a girl somewhere, and finally when they have to radio in asking for traffic to report the position of the marine’s car when seen. They are soon notified that the car has been reported stopped under a bridge, and proceed to that location. Arriving, they watch a group of Khmer gangsters leave on motorcycles while locals are gathered around the car. Inside, they see a huge python wrapped around the marine’s neck, and there are blocks in the door, locking them shut. Pichai shoots through the window killing the snake, and then works the door open and pulls Bradley out. Unnoticed by the police detectives there are over a dozen cobras also in the car, many within the sergeant’s clothing; one bites Pichai in the eye. Sanchai shoots the rest of the snakes, but it’s already too late for his partner. The girl is not in the car.
Wow. If we could give more than a 5-Star rating, this book would easily get a 6-Star review. Not only is the narrative and dialogue enjoyable, the writing is excellent: smooth, tight, fast, and a page-turner. Bangkok is a city of prostitutes and corrupt police; the main source of economy is the sex trade. The author shows us the streets and bars, and seedy atmosphere of the city, yet we never see a sex scene, and the profanity is few in this 431-page novel. The mystery is topnotch, and the characters three-dimensional. There is some violence, but again, it’s about the story, not the violence. For iexample, Sanchai and FBI agent, Kimberly Jones attend a Muay Thai boxing tournament, but arrive at the end of the bout. We do learn the real story behind Muay Thai martial arts (not the regulated sport), which was very interesting.
Sanchai and Pichai were the only incorruptible police in District 8, maybe all of Bangkok, for that matter. With Pichai now dead, that leaves only Sanchai unblemished. Sanchai is a half-breed, half Thai, half white-American: His mother is a prostitute, and during the Vietnam War, American soldiers often came to Bangkok for R&R. He never knew his father. They had married, and he took her to the states, but his family did not approve of her, so she returned to Thailand to raise her son, often living with other men, while Sanchai learned the hard facts of life. But he feels a need to find the murderer of his dear friend, and vows vengeance, sensing it favorable in Buddha’s teaching. But he soon learns there is more to the case than even he can imagine, and it will engulf Southeast Asia and America. This is a novel hard to put down, and definitely a fun read.