VULTURE PEAK by John Burdett is the fifth book in the Bangkok series and the first I have read. I have been a fan of Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series since the first book so I hadn’t read anything by John Burdett until this new book.
Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty is a travel writer who settled in Bangkok and acquired a family. His wife, Rose, was a dancer and his daughter, Miaow, was a street child whom they adopted. Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a setective in the Royal Thai policeforce in Bangkok. His mother owns a bar in the Patpong district. His wife, Chanya, was a prostitute. Their marriage went off course when their son died, but they make an effort to get back what they had. Chanya has moved away from her past, as she writes her Ph.D thesis for her degree in sociology. She is herself a resource on the lives and the times of the people in Bangkok.
Sonchai is instructed by his superior officer, Colonel Vikorn, that the theft of human organs for transplant is to be his new focus. The immorality of the trafficking is not the problem. Rather it is that renegade suppliers are setting up a new pipeline that by-passes General Zinna’s highly profitable business. General Zinna is Vikorn’s boss and the rules among human traffickers and the traffickers in human organs need to be maintained. Both men are determined to win high political office and bribes are expensive.
Sonchai discovers that the new players in the trafficking business are the beautiful and morally bankrupt identical twins, Lilly and Polly Yip. Vikorn gives Somchai a black America Express Card, a ticket to unquestioned high end shopping, be it 6 star hotels, Zegna clothing, or corneas. With that as his calling card, it doesn’t take long for Sonchai to find himself in the same circles as the twins. They are known as the “vultures” and it it their home that sits on Vulture Peak looking down on the city.
Sonchai and his American Express card travel to Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, Monte Carlo, and, in an orgy of cynicism, to Lourdes. The twins have no difficulty in culling the desperate and the rich from the flock. There is no question that they have an unending supply of donors. Greed, desperation, and the invisibility of the poor make it very easy to succeed in marketing body parts. Added to the mix is the story of General Zinna and a young, handsome soldier whom he loved.
Burdett gives us two terms to consider: “the comodification of bodies” and “the promiscuity of objects”. Chanys explains that once something has been defined as an object, it is promiscuous in that it can be bought and sold like any other object. It is this view that makes the selling of body parts, prostitution, and slavery an acceptable part of an economic system.
Bangkok and those of its people who walk on the dark side make fascinating reading. I look forward to reading the previous books in the series. But if I were to visit Bangkok, I would prefer to meet Poke, Rose. and Miaow.