Vulture Peak by John Burdett. Reviewing the Reviewers

 | Sun 9 Mar 2014 08:53 ICT

John Burdett reads from Vulture Peak

The electronic media age has made it possible for almost anyone with the motivation to become an author. The pros and cons of that reality have been well documented and we continue to see the results play out in the Amazonia region of the book world. Likewise, nowadays almost anyone can be a book critic or if you prefer a neutral tone, a book reviewer. A case in point would be me. Again, there are pluses and minuses to leveling the playing field when it comes to the book review process.

I am an amateur book reviewer. Some may have other adjectives to describe what I do. Once I was told, “Writers and prostitutes have to compete against those who give the product away for free.” That would again be me, in the case of book reviews. My audience is small. I do not have nor will I ever have the clout of a major book critic. Some people are fortunate enough to get paid to write book reviews. Other times book reviews are done by other authors. I enjoy reading book reviews written by professionals, a lot. I try and learn from them and glean what I can from the pros so that I can do a better job in the future.

Some very good authors that live or spend a lot of time in Thailand are among my favorite book critics. They include: Tom Vater; James A. Newman; Jim Algie; Christopher G. Moore and Timothy Hallinan. I enjoy reading what they write and I respect their opinions about what they read.

One of my favorite authors of Bangkok fiction is John Burdett, creator of the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series among others, which consists of 5 novels: Bangkok 8; Bangkok Tatoo; Bangkok Haunts; The Godfather of Kathmandu and his most recent in the series, VULTURE PEAK.

I have yet to review a book of John’s here, despite the fact that I have read, enjoyed and recommend the Detective Sonchai series without hesitation. Of the five novels, I have read four. Only Bangkok Haunts has escaped my radar. John is a top tier author, published by Knopf, which still has panache in the age of the Big 5 publishers. As such, there is no shortage of book reviews about John Burdett’s novels. As it should be. Of the four Burdett novels in the Sonchai series, which I have read, my two favorites are Bangkok 8 and Vulture Peak. One of the primary reasons I never did a book review at Thailand Footprint on one of John’s books is that others have done it much better than I ever could. Vulture Peak, I highly recommend. And I am going to link three book reviews, which might further convince you to consider it:

Click the picture above to take you to an excellent book review by A.J. Kirby of the New York Journal of Books. What makes it a good review? For one thing, you can tell Mr. Kirby read the book, which always helps. In addition he includes excerpts and quotes from the protagonist. And he talks about the tone of the book. Little things add up in a good book review. Here is the concluding paragraph:

But, of course, there are real villains whom Sonchai must chase, in an increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse that stretches across the continents. Vulture Peak is a modern morality tale with all the requisite bells and whistles and much more: a salutary warning for the Internet age. “It’s a beautiful, global world, so long as you keep your eyes shut.”

Two Bangkok based authors have also reviewed VULTURE PEAK. Jim Algie’s review first appeared in The Nation Newspaper, regular and online editions, dated August 6, 2012, with a headline, THE PEAK OF THE FLESH TRADE. You can Google it to read it there or click the picture below to read it on Jim’s web site. It was, in part, because of Jim’s review that I decided to read, VULTURE PEAK.

One of the things I liked about Jim’s review is that he takes John to task a bit. He doesn’t pander toward the author, which is probably one of the easier things for a book reviewer to do, particularly an amateur reviewer. I know I am guilty of it, at times. Case in point being this paragraph from Jim:

Not all the Buddhist details ring true, however. The way that the detective talks about his previous incarnations – an ancient Egyptian in “Bangkok 8?, an American Indian in this book – sounds more New Age Californian than Thai Buddhist. – Jim Algie

Christopher G. Moore also reviewed VULTURE PEAK and, like Jim, I thought he did a great job of explaining to potential readers what they had in store for them in the book. The review can be found on the International Crime Author’s Reality Check web site.  Here is a passage from the review:

When I open a crime novel my wish is to plunge inside, a full headlong immersion into another world of events, characters and drama that carry me on a white water raft of sheer joy, wonder and adventure. Once the raft is pulled from the river and you think about the experience, the rush of letting one’s self go and be carried away is the memory imprinted.

Reading John Burdett’s Vulture Peak is that kind of literary white water rafting rush I alluded to above. For those who seek the safe comfort of categories–genre and literary–Burdett’s novel will cause you to rethink such a flat, arbitrary and meaningless distinction. – Christopher G. Moore

The Complete review can be found by clicking the picture below:

So now you know why I have never written a lengthy book review of a John Burdett novel. It is not because I don’t like them; I like them a great deal. It is just that others have written excellent reviews already. Why reinvent the wheel when the wheels out there are rolling along so smoothly?

But I was pleased to come across an entry I made about VULTURE PEAK on John’s FACEBOOK page, the morning after I finished reading the 306 page hardback edition, in December of 2012. I write my best reviews when I write the review within 24 hours after I have finished reading the book, for all the obvious reasons. Here is what I had to say less than one hour after reading VULTURE PEAK:

Just finished Vulture Peak this morning. Burdett blends his imaginary world with the real one in cynical fashion as good as anyone. Told with a Buddhist slant through the narrative of Thai detective Sonchai. Vulture Peak is about organ trafficking run by identical sultry twin Chinese sisters. I’d tell you their names but like Burdett’s imagination and his accurate commentary on the global world, it really doesn’t matter much what your preference is; it’s all entertaining. For expats living in Thailand his breakdown of the Thai word kikiat (lazy) is worth the read alone. Here is a passage I liked that sums up your typical human living with failing organ(s): “Now you have a true citizen of the twenty-first century, a totally confused human soul with no identity, no direction, no faith, no religion, no politics, no instinct other than to survive.” Burdett’s not for everybody but I enjoy him a lot. Body parts everywhere in this book, along with ample commentary on east vs. west. I find myself laughing out loud at the accuracy of the human condition John describes, which aren’t at all funny. That’s the beauty of his writing to me. Bangkok 8 still my favorite in the series.

So there you have it. A review of VULTURE PEAK from a top level literary journal, two well known Bangkok based writers and a Thailand blogger. Take your pick. Anyway you look at it, Burdett and VULTURE PEAK go four for four.

This post first appeared at Thailand Footprint and may be seen at: