I'm just back from Bangkok, and I distracted myself on the flight by reading John Burdett's wonderfully distracting crime novel Bangkok Tattoo.
I was a huge fan of Mr. Burdett's first ever Bangkok-based potboiler Bangkok 8, a book I raved about to anyone who would listen. He just manages to capture Bangkok so perfectly, and Bangkok Tattoo is no different - a page-turning thriller that involves lots of prostitution, transsexualism, Thai Buddhist mysticism and deep-fried spiders.
Burdett is skilled at balancing all the elements that make Bangkok such a tantalising place - the sin, the religion, the corruption and the sheer unbridled energy. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the City of Angels will recognise at once its smells and aggravations in the pages of Burdett's books. He has a real understanding of the complex workings of Thai culture, and the multi-layered networks of relationship and obligation which lend themselves so easily to corruption when applied on a grander scale.
I don't really read much crime, but when I do I often cringe at the clumsy writing and the painful insertion of "information" which is meant to show up the author's "painstaking research." But Burdett is a joy to read - his insights into, and reflections on, Thai society are always voiced by the novels' hero, the Eurasian cop Sonchai. Sure, it's not Tolstoy, but it is wildly entertaining and, I would suggest, genuinely helpful in gaining a greater understanding of Bangkok, one of the great metropolises of the world.