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The Bangkok Asset    by John Burdett order for
Bangkok Asset
by John Burdett
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Royal Thai Police Force detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep returns in this sixth (following Vulture Peak) in an exceptional series set in Bangkok, Thailand. Sonchai, a most engaging and unusual detective lead, continually struggles to keep his soul afloat in a sea of official corruption - and that challenge escalates even further this time.

The previous episode centered on the organ trafficking business. This one reads like a mix of mystery and (hopefully not near future) science fiction as it looks at secret governmental genetic manipulation in a new arms race to create uber powerful transhumans with accelerated learning enhancements and 'a weakness for sadism.'

It begins for Sonchai when he's called to the scene of a shocking murder - a beheaded teen Thai girl and a message in blood: 'Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, I know who {smudge} father is.' Then he is ordered to another location where he watches a boat in which a tall farang (the Asset) somehow convinces two Thai men to kill the women with them - one's mother and the other's wife. There he also meets an assured new colleague, young female Inspector Krom.

The Chinese are involved as well as the Americans. There is a bombing, and a mobile phone found at the scene is filled with pictures of Sonchai - who is so interested in him? Sonchai learns of a super-secret project named MKUltra that began during the Vietnam War and continued in Cambodia. He meets old men who were part of it and finally discovers the truth about his own father. Sonchai's lover Chanya gets involved. When he is given a pivotal choice to make, they quarrel and he goes after 'the only enhancement worth having.'

Burdett continues to blend the grotesque and the spiritual in The Bangkok Asset, the strangest entry in the series to date. The ending is rather inconclusive, leaving readers to wonder what will happen next - will transhumans continue to interfere in Sonchai's life? Let's wait and see.

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