The Bangkok Asset by John Burdett

Sometimes fiction is stranger than truth. That’s certainly the case in John Burdett’s latest thriller, The Bangkok Asset (Knopf, 307 pp., $25.95).

This sixth novel in the series featuring the Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep—the son of a former Bangkok bar girl and a Vietnam War American GI—like its predecessors is compulsively readable, evokes the Thai capital and Thai culture splendidly, and has a convoluted but clever, over-the-top plot that comes extremely close to straining credibility.

Said plot: As a result of a forty-year effort by the CIA, the Chinese and Russians (don’t ask) are about to create a race of super humans who will soon take over the world. These “enhanced” human beings have been bred using a group of former American servicemen stowed away in the jungles of Cambodia after the war in Vietnam. Huge amounts of LSD were involved, along with 22nd century technological advances in human engineering.

The savvy, emotionally jittery Jitpleecheep gets enmeshed in this whole phantasmagoric business after he starts investigating a gruesome murder in which the killer leaves an incriminating clue linking him in the crime. Then things get really crazy.

An important part of the plot involves Jitplecheep’s longtime quest to find his biological father. In fact, Burdett goes into more detail on the Vietnam War and its veterans in this book than he has in any of the five previous Bangkok novels. That includes Vulture Peak, the previous one, which appeared in 2012, and the excellent first novel in the series, Bangkok 8 (2006).

We get more information on Jitplecheep’s father than ever before, including lots of details about his war and postwar experiences. To say any more would spoil things for those who read this entertaining book, which features vividly drawn characters enmeshed in crazy and portentous goings-on.

I had a small problem with the ending. Why? Let’s just say Burdett doesn’t exactly have things turn out happily ever after.

—Marc Leepson

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