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Tuesday 26 October 2021

‘Vulture Peak’ by John Burdett

Published by Corsair,
1 November 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-47210-098-6 (PB)

Vulture Peak is an immensely luxurious mansion in Phuket, in Thailand. Not the sort of place where one would expect to find three mutilated corpses. Yet this is exactly what Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police is called to. The three bodies have been hideously but expertly butchered, their faces, eyes, genitals, kidneys and livers removed, clearly for illegal transplants. At the behest of his superior Police Colonel Vikorn, and much against his will, Sonchai is to be lead investigator. But Vikorn, who needs no lessons in criminality and corruption, is playing his own game; he is running for Governor of Bangkok, and his platform, backed by three blandly sinister Americans, no surnames, no provenance, is the exposure of a ring of international organ traffickers. At the heart of this ring are two women known as The Vultures: ‘they speak a thousand languages, own a thousand faces’ but are in fact the identical Chinese twins Lilly and Polly Yip who use their beauty and similarity to bewitch and bewilder. Their trail leads Sonchai to Dubai, Monte Carlo, Shanghai and Hong Kong; every time Sonchai tracks them down they elude him. Yet it becomes clear that they are not alone and that others, particularly those involved in Bangkok’s world of transsexuals, transvestites and prostitutes and even members of the Thai establishment, are implicated.

This book may not be to everyone’s taste. Virtually everyone is presented as being irredeemably corrupt. Only Sonchai himself, true to his Buddhist philosophy, and partially disconnected from Thai society by his mixed parentage, (part-Thai, part-American), stands apart. Although, he takes a fairly relaxed view of the seamier side of Bangkok life.

It is beautifully written; the tone is light, ironic, amusing in places yet always with an awareness of the darkness beneath. And there is also a political dimension, articulated in the first chapter by the doctor who examines the bodies, ‘Whodunnit? In the more general sense . . . capitalism dunnit.’ So, the author’s basic premise may be more serious than at first appears.
Reviewer: Radmila May

John Burdett practiced law for 14 years in London and Hong Kong until he was able to retire to write full time. He has lived in France, Spain, Hong Kong and the U.K. and now commutes between Bangkok and Southwest France.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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