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Vulture Peak (2012)

Vulture Peak (2012)

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3.74 of 5 Votes: 5
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0307272672 (ISBN13: 9780307272676)
knopf publishing group

About book Vulture Peak (2012)

”This system carries with it the unspoken implication that once someone has been defined as an ‘object,’ it is automatically assumed to be ‘promiscuous’ in the sense that it may be bought and sold like any other object, even if the object in question is somebody’s kidney or liver--or whole body. This kind of thinking is exactly what underpinned the slave trade for hundreds of years: as soon as a captive West African was defined as ‘property.’ then he could be treated as a ‘promiscuous object,’ that is to say an object whose human rights have been magically transmuted into a money value in the accounts of the property owner. What is unclear, however, is why modern Western culture has continued to target prostitution by adult volunteers as ‘immoral’.” Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a Buddhist who is struggling to keep his soul untarnished by the harsh realities of existing in a corrupt system that is part of a violent world. He is under the thumb of the merciless Colonel Vikhorn who relies on Sonchai’s detective skills and his discretion in his ongoing competitive gamesmanship with General Zinna. When Vikhorn decides that he must run for provisional governor, he decides that he needs some moralistic victory to help guide him to political success. Vikhorn knows that Zinna is tied into the global illegal organ trade, so what would be more perfect than to shut down his operation and, better yet, destroy his rival completely?When three bodies are found with every useful organ harvested in an expensive villa in Phuket, Sonchai is dispatched, undercover, to meet with a Hong Kong connection dealing in organs. He finds himself sandwiched between two beautiful Asian twins who aren’t fooled for a minute that he is who he says he is. ”Imagine what it does to your worldview when you can see profit in everyone you meet.”It makes you certifiable.Of course, there are some ambiguous issues about at what point the law is broken. For the Vulture Twins, there is no line. ”A crime without a victim, most of the time. Most of the time the illegal organ sale is voluntary. The real crime is letting people get that poor. The real crime is capitalism, of which this trade is an inevitable product.”Is it voluntary if you are selling your kidney to feed your family? The demand for organs is way larger than what the market can provide under normal circumstances. When people are willing to pay a half a million dollars for a liver, the market will provide. China has been a great source of organs. The carving up of executed criminals for their useable organs has been well documented. With advances in drugs, it has also now become possible to place transplanted organs in people with previously noncompatible blood types. This is not only a game changer and will save many lives, it also makes life much, much easier for black market organ dealers to fulfill those half a million dollar contracts. It might even be you. Let’s say you decide to go to Thailand on a vacation. You go to one or maybe several of the clubs there, and you meet this lovely young lady or maybe a katoey that you find to be attractive. You decide to pay their bar tab (code for paying for sex), and you go to have boom boom. You wake up the next morning, after hopefully a night of amazing debauchery, missing a kidney. Inconvenient...yes... but you should probably be very glad that they didn’t decide to take your liver, your eyeballs, lungs, etc.The other interesting aspect to consider is the advances in face transplants. Remember the movie Face/Off with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta? I still get the willies about that movie. What a wonderful medical breakthrough that allows people who have been horribly burned to have a face the world can look at without wincing. Now consider the next possibility. Let’s say a rich industrialist who was born with a face even his mother couldn’t love decides he wants Tom Cruise's face. Or maybe he’d settle for someone easier to get to, like an upcoming actor who is vulnerable because he likes to party or maybe that punk with symmetrical features hanging out on the street corner. The amount of money that a certain immoral element of very rich people are willing to pay makes anything go from improbable to possible. ”A money-driven morality is no morality at all.”Needless to say, Sonchai finds himself up to his, I would say eyeballs but that seems inappropriate given the circumstances, neck in an investigation where even a nosy policeman could find himself being craved like a Thanksgiving turkey. He meets a Hong Kong Detective named Chan, who is brilliant but lithium dependent to combat his bipolar disorder. He is cerebral and sees well beyond the tree to the breadth of the forest and over the mountains. Sonchai asks him why he doesn’t have a partner. ”Me? I’m too confused. Look, I grew up in a genuinely modern city, where nobody even pretends to know who they are. I could be gay. I’ve thought about it. It’s true that I’m sexually aroused by young naked women, but on the other hand I can never convince myself that my sperm would be safe with them. Next thing you know she’s had your baby, never wants to see you again, but demands child support for the next twenty years as an alternative for having you indicted for rape. At least with a man you’re safe from that gambit.”There is some cynical logic going on in that statement. He might need to stop being a cop for a while and meet some normal women. Chan is a terrific character with his personal philosophies threaded through every sentence that spills from his lips. John Burnett takes on the top social issues during the course of this series and discusses several of them in this book. Sonchai’s partner Lek is trying to make enough money to start his transgender modifications. The whole idea of sexual orientation or any stigma associated with it is tackled head on in this book. The novel is populated with characters with about every normal or alternative sexual orientation you can think of. As you begin to get to know people it is no great surprise that what once may seem strange about their orientation becomes ordinary.Sonchai’s wife, a retired prostitute, is writing her thesis on why prostitution should be legalized. She believes that women are being victimized by governments that do not allow them to practice prostitution. Which sort of turns the whole concept on it’s head. ”The answer to the world economic crisis was obvious: legalize prostitution and tax it. At 15 percent per bang, deficits would shrink overnight. It would be safe to leverage as well. The worse things get, the more people bury their problems in sex. The better things get, the more people celebrate their good fortune with sex. It’s a tax revenue for all seasons, and with ever more sophisticated surveillance coming onstream, it won’t be long before governments will be in a position to tax sex between married couples. Hey, Obama, are you listening?”This sounds like a business opportunity to me, government surveillance proof pods for sex, coming standard for two people, or a deluxe that fits three people, or a Magic Johnson that has room for...well...more arms and legs and lips than I would know what to do with. I already have a pod market for those people, Doomsday Preppers, who think the government is already well aware of their do-si-do activities. Burdett also makes the case that soft drugs, such as marijuana, should be legalized. Now Sonchai is a stressed man. There are things he sees during this case that leaves him in serious need of self-medication. Export grade marijuana is his favorite way to cope with his job inspired anxiety. ”At least I’ve got control of the demons. Thanks to the power of cannabis, I’m able to shrink them with my brand-new green demon-shrinking gun, which sort of grew out of my right hand after the third joint.” If I didn’t know better I’d think he’d seen too many David Cronenberg films. Sonchai also bemoans the demise of the Thai stick, but Burdett, always so helpful, does describe the method with too...could make your very own at home. The eyes of a man who smoked, drank, and whored his way across Thailand while doing research for his novels.There is some crazy ass stuff going on in this novel. Some readers find the social issues mingling with the plot distracting or annoying. I think it is more realistic to see a detective who is struggling with more than just the aspects of the case. We are becoming such a linear society that we even want our novels to behave and never stray from a plodding course towards resolution. The Buddhist elements to this series of novels are fascinating and always bring me a knew perspective that I can apply directly to my own life. This is a wonderful series that continues to hold my attention. You could probably read them out of order, but I would suggest starting with the first one, Bangkok 8. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

Organ Trafficking, Prostitution, and Drugs in the Underbelly of Asian SocietyWhen I read John Burdett’s first novel, Bangkok 8, I was hooked, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about its fascinating protagonist, the incorruptible Thai homicide detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. Bangkok 8 offered up a feast of intimate knowledge about Buddhism as practiced in Thailand, the local brand of animist superstitions, and the corruption that pervades every nook and cranny of Thai society, all revealed in the context of a spectacular murder mystery. In three subsequent novels featuring the detective — Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, and The Godfather of Katmandu – Burdett gradually shifted the emphasis of his writing from Sonchai Jitpleecheep’s exotic inner dialogue to the grisly details of the homicide case at hand. In Vulture Peak, the fifth novel in the Royal Thai Detective Series, Burdett has gone the distance. The local color of Thailand’s red-light districts is still there, and the plot is, if anything, even more convoluted, but the detective has grown tired and his worldview is verging on cynicism. The result is less than fully satisfying.Vulture Peak — the place, not the title — is the palatial hilltop home outside Phuket on the Thai coast where three bodies have been discovered, so badly mutilated that their gender can’t be determined at first. Heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, genitals, face have all been surgically removed, the bodies left on an oversized bed in the deserted home. Detective Jitpleecheep is ordered by his boss, the famously corrupt policeman, Colonel Vikorn, to learn the identity of the murderer. If the detective solves the case, the colonel can take credit and boost his campaign for Governor of Bangkok — a campaign no one would ever have expected him to undertake. Here is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and Jitpleecheep must use all his wile and intuition to unravel the threads of the case.As the detective sets out with his katoey (transgender) assistant, mystery piles on mystery. Why is Colonel Vikorn running for public office when he is already making billions from the drug trade? Who owns the house on Vulture Peak, and what is it used for? Is the colonel’s bitter rival, General Zinna, involved in organ trafficking? Does he own the house? As new characters crowd onto the scene, the plot grows ever more intricate. To understand what’s going on, you’ll have to read almost to the very end of the book.Don’t get the impression from anything I’ve written above that Vulture Peak doesn’t erupt in startling prose from time to time. Here, for example, Burdett comments on Christianity (with apologies to you, Dear Reader, if you’re a believer): “Of the world’s three universal religions, one is based on a profound insight into human psychology and one is based on a profound insight into the kind of social structure that is necessary for people to live in peace and harmony . . . The former is Buddhism, and the latter is Islam. The other world religion is an insane collection of primitive magic and mumbo-jumbo, with cadavers resurrecting and walking around with holes in them, lepers suddenly healing and the blind suddenly seeing, virgins giving birth and snakes that talk.”And again, commenting on Western civilization: “The discovery of nirvana is the psychological equivalent of the invention of zero but vastly more important. Think of where mathematics was before zero, and you have the level of mental development of the West: good/bad, right/left, profit/loss, heaven/hell, us/them, me/you. It’s like counting with Roman numerals.”John Burdett was born in the UK, became a lawyer there, spent a dozen years practicing in Hong Kong, then left the law to write crime novels. He now divides his time between Thailand and France.(From

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Vulture Peak (2012) is the fifth installment of the Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery series by John Burdett. I felt the need for something lighter for a break. I mostly enjoy Burdett's books for the exotic locales and here there's lots of that since there are forays from Bangkok to Phuket, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Monte Carlo. However, I have to say that the dialogue was really bothering me this time around. The characters started to blend together as their styles of speaking were rendered too similar and intelligent sounding as well as using some of the same verbal ticks, like using "HiSo" for "high society." I also feel that most of the dialogue is used as exposition to give information about characters or plot or to expound the author's facile opinions on western society, capitalism, and other topics. Burdett stoops to giving wikipedia definitions twice in the novel--laziness? Is there no way to explain it in conversation? His American stereotypes continue to irritate me as well, all of the political advisers in the novel are amoral American opportunists. There are science fiction/fantastical elements to the novel, not unlike Bangkok Tattoo, that are not my cup of tea. I think I might skip the next installment of the series and focus on more accomplished mystery writers like Charles Willeford, James Ellroy, and Patricia Highsmith.
—Patrick McCoy

2.5 stars. I love the characters and the setting for this series, but the books have been getting weirder (and they started off pretty damned weird). Sonchai’s personal life provides some grounding for the wacky yet sinister mystery/crime plots; this time the background is a layer of mistrust between Sonchai and his wife. Their relationship has never seemed real to me, though, so it wasn’t a satisfying counterbalance to the book’s outrageous aspects.I was glad that the author omitted the supernatural elements which were threatening to turn the series into fantasy. The weirdness is relatively mundane in this one. I won’t begin to describe the plot, but it involves illegal organ transplants obtained (not always voluntarily) from impoverished third-world people for wealthy Westerners.While I found the book to be unsatisfying overall, there are some nice scenes. I like the unabashedly corrupt Chief Vikorn, and I like Lek, Sonchai’s katoey assistant. I liked the Hong Kong police officer. I missed the FBI agent, though, and I was really annoyed by the new American character, a sociologist who decried prostitution until her first glimpse of an attractive man in a bar.

Hmm. It's been several years since I read one of Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep books. So--I'm bumping what should be a 3+ book to 4, just because it was so much fun to go to Thailand and hang out with Sonchai and the gang, and look at the weirdness of Thailand (which may not be so weird, when you compare their values to the familiar farang behaviors). The plot was a little thin--there's a lot more to be said about the morality of organ trafficking, but Burdett got side-tracked by twins and two Chinese cops and a roving rapist. The series is always fun to read, but this is not one of his best.

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