John Patrick Burdett (born 24 July 1951) is a British crime novelist. He is the bestselling author of Bangkok 8 and its sequels, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts,The Godfather of Kathmandu, and Vulture Peak. His most recent novel in this series, The Bangkok Asset, was published on 4 August 2015.
Burdett is a former lawyer who lived and worked in Hong Kong for twelve years. For a time, he was employed by the Hong Kong Government. He later worked in private practice. Burdett never really wanted to be a lawyer (he studied English and American Literature at Warwick University where he specialised in Shakespeare and metaphysical poetry), but chose that profession out of despair during the British economic and political crises of the 1970s. After amassing sufficient funds he decided to abandon law and pursue a career as a novelist. Burdett now splits his time between France and Bangkok and continues to research his novels in various locations in Thailand.
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The Last Six Million Seconds
Set in Hong Kong in April and May 1997, just before the British turnover of the territory to mainland China, this novel deals with a horrific murder investigation. Three severed heads are found in a floating garbage bag on the maritime border between Hong Kong territory and China. Fortunately, they match the three DNA profiles found in a vat of minced human meat that had been abandoned in a warehouse. Political implications of the crime may complicate the turnover, and political pressure is brought both to halt the investigation and to hurry it. The detective, a half-Chinese half-Irish HK resident, finds himself threatened by both sides—all the more so when a WMD smuggling plot that threatens to force outright war between Britain and China is uncovered.
The Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series
A series of crime novels, mainly set in Bangkok; they consist of 6 books so far: Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, Vulture Peak, and The Bangkok Asset. They centre on the philosophical Thai Buddhist detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and his meditative internal dialogues. Sonchai is a "leuk krung" or half-caste. He is the son of a former "rented-wife" (a type of prostitute) and a "farang." His father, a U.S. military officer, he has never known. Sonchai has spent much of his childhood in Europe and USA, and has acquired cultural insights. A born "outsider," he is also seemingly unbribeable, which only increases his alienation from his colleagues.
The novels involve Thailand's sex industry and the red-light districts of Bangkok. Sexual matters are part of the narrative, including the juxtaposition of often conflicting Thai and Western norms and mores. They have been widely praised for the surprising breadth and depth of understanding of a number of different cultures. Apart for the Anglo Saxon cultural traditions with which he was brought up, Burdett has shown considerable familiarity with Confucian, Buddhist, Latin and North African societies, due to his extensive travels. His fans stress the psychological insights which derive from a penetrating grasp of Buddhism, and the vivid portrayal of the urban paranoia of modern times, especially as expressed in the lives of young and not-so-young men and women compelled, often in spite of themselves, to seek identity in a frantic and numbingly materialistic world.
They contain larger-than-life characters intertwined with a wry sense of humour, and bizarre crimes. The crimes include execution by the release of a container full of cobra snakes, into a car where the driver is forcibly prevented from escaping (Bangkok 8), the theft of valuable tattoos (and their associated human skin) off the backs' of murder victims (Bangkok Tattoo), and homicide related to the production of a snuff video (Bangkok Haunts). Juxtaposed is the investigative nonchalance and Buddhist acceptance of an "arhat" detective who can earnestly meditate even in a Bangkok traffic-jam. Many popular shamanistic superstitions that have carried over into Buddhism in Thailand are explored. Past lives (reincarnation) and hungry ghosts also contribute to the atmosphere and texture. For those who know or want to know Thailand, these books are an excellent primer due to the frequent commentary where the narrator helps the farang understand how farang ways are so far from human centered Asian ways. Also, the narrator's comments on the ways of women, Asian and Western, are particularly insightful.
Burdett has expressed interest in moving beyond the crime/detective genre once his Bangkok series is complete.
All of Burdett's published books have been optioned for films, but due to the exotic location and multi-racial characters, film makers have found it difficult to find appropriate 'stars' and screenplays. Bangkok 8 was optioned by Millennium Films, which produced the fourth movie in the "Rambo" series in Thailand, and is serious about making the film according to Burdett. Producer John Thompson scouted locations in Bangkok, and James McTeigue, the director of "V for Vendetta", had been hired to direct, but production looks to have been cancelled.
- A Personal History of Thirst, William Morrow & Co (February 1996), ISBN 0-688-14399-7
- The Last Six Million Seconds, Hodder & Stoughton (2 January 1997), ISBN 0-340-68904-8
- Bangkok 8: A Novel, Alfred A. Knopf (2003) ISBN 0-9657525-3-4
- Bangkok Tattoo, Vintage Reprint edition (11 July 2006) ISBN 1-4000-3291-1
- Bangkok Haunts, Alfred A. Knopf (2007) ISBN 0-307-26318-5
- The Godfather of Kathmandu, Alfred A. Knopf (2010) ISBN 978-0-307-26319-3
- Vulture Peak, Alfred A. Knopf (2012) ISBN 978-0-307-27267-6
- The Bangkok Asset, Alfred A. Knopf (2015) ISBN 978-0-307-27268-3
- At Home Amid the Red Lights, The New York Times, 25 October 2007
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