BOOK & BLOG
August 26, 2007
Book of the Week: Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett
For those of you who like to read books that give you a vivid picture about a different culture, John Burdetts three books about Sonjai Jitpleecheep, a Buddhist policeman in Bangkok, should be at the top of your TBR list. I just finished BANGKOK HAUNTS, the third book, and Im really in awe of Burdetts painstaking work in capturing a complex society thats literally worlds different from our American scene.
Sonjai himself is a multi-layered character. Son of a prostitute, protégé of a corrupt police captain (Vikorn), and about-to-be-father, Sonjai spends much of his time trying to balance his Buddhism with his police duties, his duties in his mothers bar (the Old Mans Club), and the respect and love he owes Chanya, the mother of his child. In addition to these dominant characters in Sonjais life, his police assistant, Lek, is prepping to have surgery to become a woman.
Thai attitudes towards so many things are vastly different from our attitudes that theres a certain shock factor in Burdetts books. BANGKOK HAUNTS, as well as its predecessors BANGKOK 8 and BANGKOK TATTOO, doesnt stint on the violence.
HAUNTS opens with the viewing of a snuff film. To his horror, Sonjai knows the victim, a prostitute named Damrong, with whom he had a brief affair. Sonjai feels compelled to find who actually killed her and who financed the film. Damrong is much more than a poor prostitute from a poor province, and her angry spirit begins to haunt Sonjai and the other men who had a relationship with her. Some of them are powerful men, and Vikorn puts pressure on Sonjai to abandon the investigation. Sonjai is intrigued by a monk who approaches all the men who had significant entanglements with Damrong.
Watching Sonjai try to pick an honorable path through the minefield of Thai police work can be quite horrifying, but these books are compelling and excellently written.
Ive had quite a few thoughts lately on how reader participation is changing the world for modern writers. Twenty years ago, writers didnt hear from readers so much. Oh, the occasional letter, the occasional comment in a signing line . . . that was about the extent of reader/writer interaction.
Now that readers follow writers websites and blogs and can have some kind of interaction with lots of writers, the pictures changing, and how to handle the new relationship is getting to be more of an issue.
I can only speak for myself and my own path, when I say that Im going to write books the way I think they come out most truly; and by that, I mean true to the characters, to my vision of what should happen, and to the best of my skill. With respect and affection for my wonderful readers, thats my job to do alone.
Ive noticed lately that quite a few readers seem angry if books dont turn out in a way that would have made them happier. Thats an attitude I find hard to understand. (Maybe its my age? I dont know.) The writer is determiner of fate for his or her characters. Writing is a lone pastime, not a group endeavor. It doesnt take a village to write a book. It takes one person, shut up in a room for hours on end.
I know that readers have every right not to be happy with the way a book ends, or with the way characters meet their fate. But to be angry with the writer? The characters belong to the writer. I know in a certain sense they belong to the reader, too; but the characters live in the writers mind and at her/his will.
Certainly Im not saying that writers are above criticism; certainly Im not saying that you should buy a book by a writer in whom you no longer have faith. Im saying that the writer is God, as far as the characters go. The writers decisions are final. Thats part of the connection the writer has with her world.
I dont often blog about the actual process of writing, because its so personal. The knowledge Ive developed about my characters is one of the most wonderful things about the job Ive got. To determine what happens to them is my responsibility, and one I dont take lightly.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris