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Burdett, John - 'Vulture Peak'
Paperback: 464 pages (Nov. 2012) Publisher: Corsair ISBN: 1472100980

Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep joins the senior pathologist at a luxury mansion on Vulture Peak, high above Phuket. They enter the master bedroom where three bodies lie on the bed covered with a protective sheet. Pulling the sheet back Sonchai sees that the victims have been stripped of their faces, eyes, genitals, livers and kidneys. Their fingertips have also been removed. Surgery however is not the cause of death, rather it is the bullet to the back of the head of all three, execution style. Sonchai is looking at the results of organ theft, a professional job with a professional clean-up.

Only the week before, Sonchai had been in Colonel Vikorn's office as the Colonel was explaining the material and strategic requirements of an organ-trafficking industry; he had looked into it a few years ago but had decided to stick with heroin-trafficking as his supplemental income of choice. Now Vikorn is announcing a major police operation against Thailand's organ-trafficking trade. The Colonel will put an end to this awful crime and he is appointing Sonchai lead investigator. At this point Sonchai realises that Vikorn's arch rival and enemy, General Zinna, must have fingers in the organ-trafficking pie. When Vikorn shows Sonchai the campaign posters for his forthcoming candidacy in the Bangkok governorship election, Sonchai knows that his intuition is right. But he accepts the proffered, prized Black Amex card together with Vikorn's instructions to get himself to Dubai in the guise of an apprentice organ hunter; the Colonel's previous research has established contacts in the trade who will get Sonchai's investigation under way. What follows are a testing few days that see Sonchai travelling to Dubai and Monte Carlo and plunge him into a Buddhist quandary and a consequent need for a comforting high when he returns to Bangkok. Now he is standing in the mansion bedroom on Vulture Peak, confronted first hand with the consequences of organ theft in the robbed three bodies on the bed.

John Burdett is a former Hong Kong lawyer who now writes full time, splitting his home-base between France and Bangkok. VULTURE PEAK is the fifth in his Bangkok series which features police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the son of a Thai mother and an American soldier, a Buddhist cop married to an ex-prostitute currently writing her sociology PhD. In VULTURE PEAK Sonchai's investigations into organ-trafficking sees him negotiating a corrupt trade that flows back and forth like a current between South-East Asia and China, populated by the rich, the depraved, the powerful and the would-be powerful, not forgetting shadowy ex-CIA or World Bank Westerners. It is a world that is coldly businesslike in its "commodification" of the human body, as Burdett puts it organs and body-parts as trading goods; a modern day counterpart of body-snatching and VULTURE PEAK contains an image that could be straight out of Frankenstein towards its exciting finish.

One could be taken aback by the contradiction of Sonchai managing his police work-life alongside his corrupt boss Vikorn. But we already have this situation, albeit less outrageously described, in contemporary Italian crime fiction where police detectives daily negotiate the corruption of the Mafia and graft within their own force and judicial system. Another possible contradiction is Sonchai's contemplations of the Buddhist Way as he plunges into his work and life amidst the flesh-pots. In an interview Burdett himself has referred to the possibilities of a new genre, "the mystic thriller". I am a great fan of Colin Cotterill's Laotian investigator, Dr Siri Paiboun, "national coroner of Laos and reluctant shaman", so I admit to enjoying the idea of "mystic thrillers". Cotterill and Burdett write very differently but both firmly ground their lead characters in the material world which they inhabit; a crucial factor in their characters' success and part of the freshness that both writers bring to crime fiction. Personally I happily cope with Sonchai's Buddhist contemplations but if you like your investigators free from spiritual concerns neither Sonchai nor Siri may be for you.

I enjoyed VULTURE PEAK greatly once I got used to Sonchai and his Bangkok setting and altogether this story has whet my appetite for reading the earlier books in the series. Burdett's writing is thought-provoking and the story's plot twists and turns, ratcheting up the suspense as Sonchai closes in on the crime bosses of VULTURE PEAK. If you'd like to travel with your crime thrills to Thailand, I thoroughly recommend you travel with Sonchai.

Lynn Harvey, England
December 2012

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 12/01/2013 11:35