By John Burdett
Alfred A. Knopf ; 2012 ($25.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, one of the few uncorrupt and possibly incorruptible lawmen in Thailand, is given an assignment he can't refuse, much as he tries to. His boss, the exceedingly corrupt Colonel Vikorn, wants him to investigate the high-stakes, dangerous and ugly world of human organ trafficking. Cracking down on the worst offenders will give Vikorn political clout, get rid of his arch enemy, Army General Zinna, and open the lucrative field for him, once the furor dies down. A trio of mysterious Americans are backing him up for their own reasons. Vikorn gives Jitpleecheep a black American Express card and sends him on a journey that will take him to Dubai, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo, and back again to Thailand. His contacts in Dubai, a couple of the nastiest villains ever, Chinese twins Lily and Polly Yip, lead him on a merry chase that almost costs him his life. Also known as The Vultures, they are rich, gorgeous, amoral, and probably psychotic, and very, very dangerous. Their involvement in the organ trade goes far beyond the monetary rewards — this story is not for the weak of stomach.
Jitpleecheep is very unhappy with his life when this journey begins. He suspects his wife Chanya, an ex-prostitute who turned to the academic life after the death of their son, is having an affair. If Vikorn hadn't forced him to take the assignment, he would have been content to stay at home drinking all day. Chanya is having her own difficulties, trying to convince the American professor who's overseeing her dissertation that Thai women can sell their bodies without losing their souls. This plot line has an interesting and humorous ending, adding some lightness to an otherwise dark story.
The protagonist has interactions with a wide assortment of colorful characters in his quest to bring down the evil organ traffickers. His assistant Lek, a katoey, is a camp delight, taking the reader into the strange and exotic world of Thai transsexuals, a world that is oddly popular with foreigner males these days. A Chinese police detective, an aging rock star using up his third liver, and a shy Phuket bar girl are among those who assist him in his investigation.
Burdett doesn't shy away from exposing the seedy side of Thailand, but he also shows the beauty of the country and its people. Jitpleecheep is a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless, and the reader can't help rooting for him to come out on top, if not physically, at least morally.
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