Last post ended with a book description of Bangkok Haunts from Amazon.com
So, what is troubling Detective Jitpleecheep in this third book of John Burdett’s Bangkok series?
Haunts. More specifically, the ghost of a former lover, Damrong, alluring bar girl and ill-fated star of a high quality pornographic snuff film delivered to Sonchai anonymously.
Sonchai is profoundly affected by Damrong’s death, apparently having never fully recovered from their affair, describing her as “a sorceress who bent his mind”
“She wasn’t a woman, she was a disease that infected the blood of half the men she ever serviced… In her hands your body was a penny-whistle that she could play anything on. But it wasn’t what she did to your body alone, it was what she did to your heart… She knew how to set it on fire. She was an addiction worse than crack, worse than yaa baa—worse than heroin.”
Early on in the story, compelled to discover the truth of Damrong’s death, Sonchai returns to the apartment where her body was found, to examine it more carefully. In admitting that his first visit was “quick and cursory” he also admits to some thoroughly Thai superstitions:
“I had plenty of time to do it yesterday, but that was a Wednesday, and you don’t mess with the dead on Wednesdays. If all roads in the West lead to Rome, then all superstitions in the East lead back to India; our Brahmin mentors left precise instructions on this and other points, including color coding for days of the week; if you notice a lot of us wearing pink on Tuesdays, that’s why. I don’t normally follow this tradition unless something has made me nervous. Today there’s a tint of Thursday orange in my socks, shirt, and handkerchief; better safe than sorry.”
We soon learn that Sonchai’s superstitious beliefs extend beyond a cautious nod to the ancient Brahmin’s astrological rules assigning colors to days of the week; it seems he’s been nervously awaiting a visit from a ghost:
“Damrong came to me last night. I guess I knew she would whatever color pajamas I wore, and no matter how many times I waied the Buddha in our little homemade shrine with fairy lights: Chanya’s idea. I was aware of her and the Lump in bed with me at the same time as being out of the body. Furtiveness only added to the intensity of my lust … Men, let me be frank, there is no erotic experience that compares to being fucked by a ghost. When she had finished with me, I took myself off to the yard to hose down my feverish body. Thankfully Chanya was still fast asleep when I slipped back beside her.
Beyond her succubus-like visits to Sonchai’s bedroom, which we might explain away as nightmarish wet dreams, Damrong’s ghost continues to haunt Sonchai during his waking hours. On a late-night errand to get his pregnant Chanya the Moomah noodles she’s currently craving, Sonchai is on his way to the checkout at a local market when…
“…a familiar profile catches my gaze. Of course it could not be her, and anyway she has her back to me so it could be almost anyone; but something in the way she moves… you know that Beatles song, farang? “Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover”? I have goose bumps on both forearms and shivers down my spine. … I decide it’s late, I’m tired, and I’ll feel better in the morning. Proud of myself for kicking the superstition habit, I walk past her to the checkout counter, stack up my five packs of moomahs, fish out my wallet—then become aware of the young woman, who has come to stand behind me. Why can’t I look at her? Why am I insanely focusing on the pack of chilis she is waiting to buy? Why is my hand holding the five-hundred-baht note shaking like a leaf? The checkout girl has noticed and decided I’m one of those dangerous men of the night. I want her to hurry up with the change, and in my haste to grab it, I knock over one of the noodle packs. Now it is lying on the floor between us, the other shopper and me. Both she and the checkout girl are waiting for me to pick it up—what kind of gentleman am I that I expect a woman to pick up something I’ve dropped? We’re still old-fashioned like that. I manage to avoid her eyes as I bend down, but she permits no such strategy on the way up. Now I am staring into Damrong’s face, no doubt about it, down to the last nuance. There is even a familiar, triumphant smile playing over her lips. “Good evening, Detective,” she says softly, lowering her lids, feigning shyness.
Sonchai escapes “gibbering,” but waits across the road, watching for her to exit the market, but Damrong’s ghost has disappeared.
Later, as he tries to sleep:
“I close my eyes and observe my mind slip into denial. Of course, it didn’t happen, right? Right. Such things are impossible, they are the imaginative creations of bored and ignorant peasants, right? Right. You’re only half Thai, for Buddha’s sake, you don’t need to be sucked into this primitive sorcery, right? Right. By the time I fall asleep, the incident has been dismantled and stored somewhere dark and deep.
Damrong’s ghost has an agenda, but to tell you more would be telling you too much.
Bangkok Haunts is, in my opinion, a much better read than the previous Bangkok Tattoo. Sonchai has re-assumed the more likeable persona of the original Bangkok 8, for which I’m grateful, and he also takes us deeper into Thai culture and Buddhist belief without getting pedantic; no info-dumps this time round; it’s all to do with the story.
Bangkok Haunts draws us into what Sonchai’s FBI friend Kimberly Jones refers to as a “magic-ravaged land” where day-to-day life is rife with hungry ghosts and bizarre happenings, presenting them so matter-of-factly via Sonchai’s unique and believable voice that any skepticism on our part is all but erased.
Next in the series are The Godfather of Kathmandu and John Burdett’s latest, Vulture Peak. Might take a break from Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep next time round. We’ll see.
Next Moody Sleuth Tuesday is 07May2013