Since his first Bangkok novel, Bangkok 8, John Burdett has entertained readers through the creative use of the grotesque – via the sex and violence that populates his novels.
Burdett set the standard for all his subsequent books early, in a scene in Bangkok 8, when an American serviceman dies a gruesome death from a nest of snakes planted in his car. Fans, who have learned to savor such moments, won’t be disappointed by his newest novel, Vulture Peak.
As with all of Burdett’s Bangkok novels, Vulture Peak features Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. The son of a Thai prostitute and an American serviceman, Sonchai, a Buddhist, may be the only honest cop in Bangkok.
In Vulture Peak, Sonchai is called upon to investigate the grotesque death of three people. The bodies, found in a wealthy Thai enclave in Phuket that's nestled on the cliffs above the Andaman Sea, are missing their finger tips, their faces and all their useable body parts from eyes to kidneys.
Sonchai is soon on the trail of twin Chinese sisters, who appear to be the Wal-Mart of worldwide suppliers of body parts. Attempting to get close to the sisters, Sonchai flies to Dubai with a cache of “medical supplies” that turns out to be 1,764 human eyes. (Grotesque, remember?)
During his investigation, Sonchai learns that the sisters have an extensive collection of body parts. The collection includes penises that they’ve harvested and now use as sex toys. (I did say grotesque.)
Burdett attempts to make some serious points about the “commodification” of the human body. Sonchai’s wife and mother were in the trade and his mother still operates a successful (read lucrative) sex club. From the Thai vantage point, sex for money represents a reasonable exchange.
The girls are treated well, and are paid well. Each girl represents an important source of income for their families; perhaps the only income.
Contrast the Thai whores with the worldwide trade in body parts. Some of the body parts come from executed prisoners, but others are harvested from unwilling victims or from the poor, desperately willing to sell a kidney in exchange for half a year’s income.
Not to worry, Burdett’s meditations on the commodification of the human body don’t get in the way of his plot or pacing.
Vulture Peak builds to a satisfying denouement atop the cliff house, with ample grotesque moments en route to satisfy every Burdett fan.