Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Notes — The Bangkok Asset: The Darkness Before The Night

There are places, then there are places.  I felt San Francisco at nearly every nerve ending.  It was sensuous, inspiring, lustful, sometimes frightening, always surprising.  Until a few years ago, I felt most alive in the city by the Bay.  There are cities where I feel a certain kinship. New Orleans is one. Marrakesh is another. Palm Springs, where I live now, is pleasant enough.  Beautiful even. Mountains, palms, lots of colorful flowers. But it seems like a place that’s been decorated, scrubbed and vacuumed. I don’t mind dying here if that’s how it works out.  But Bangkok is the love that got away.

Fortunately, we have a few authors to give me exciting, vicarious glimpses into the life of my lost love. But first a few qualifiers to my otherwise worshipful view of Thailand’s capital. As cities go, Bangkok is not particularly pretty. The skyline was frumpy the last time I saw it. High rises appeared to have been abandoned before they were completed, hanging like bare-boned skeletons in a crowd of gaudy onlookers. The air is often noxious from carbon monoxide and the streets, after a serious rain, are ankle deep in what we hope is only water.

However, the constant reminder of death makes life more vivid there. The sweet acceptance of reality in all its forms and with all its struggles seems noble, heroic. From what I’ve seen and read, I cannot help but think the Thais are wiser and, in their profound understanding, more beautiful. There is a price to be paid.

That’s where author John Burdett comes in. His Bangkok covers the spectrum of humanity. It is full of spirits – good and evil — the frailties of human nature, the fullness of the seven deadly sins, the haunting of, or by` the past and, now, with The Bangkok Asset, deadly warnings from the future. It is, intended or not, an indictment of capitalism and its potential to usher in of a new form of fascism and should be of current interest.

This high biotech product — a transhuman — is the seed of a self-sustaining, self-developing, powerful, masterful, ever expanding Army. To counter this massive and ominous threat to our freedom, if not existence itself, Burdett has placed my favorite protagonist, the infinitely vulnerable, all-too-human Thai cop, Sonchai, who is already involved in a personal mystery — the identity of his father.

What’s so good about Burdett is that despite the temptation to make this a high-concept piece, he keeps us grounded in the story and  in its meaning, but most of all in Bangkok. In some ways, all of this could only happen here.

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