Catching up with my pile of finished books, here’s one I finished about a month ago: Bangkok 8.

It isn’t what I normally read: a thriller / detective story in an exotic country. Starts with a dead body, which leads to another death (that of the detective’s partner). Sounds common enough. But when the murder weapon is a swarm of drugged snakes, and the detectives are dedicated Buddhists, and most of the action takes place in Bangkok’s prostitute district, you get something different. I’m not sure if any one of these would have been enough to get me to read the book, but all three together were hard to resist.

The atmosphere is about as bizarre as this initial setting makes it sound. But somehow Burdett manages to present it in such a way that it all sounds mostly plausible. I don’t know how true it is to Thai culture, or how true it is to facts – is the Bangkok police force corrupt through and through? do Thai radio news programmes talk about ghouls in the city? It doesn’t really matter, though, because it makes a good story.

While the detective story aspect is reasonably interesting, it isn’t what I remember a month after reading the book. It’s just there to provide a scaffolding from which the rest of the book can hang. Instead, I remember the exploration of the sex trade, and the Thai view of westerners’ obsession with sex, and the tale of the detective’s prostitute mother. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a moralising book. It’s not exactly immoralising either – there is no actual sex in the book. It’s just very matter-of-fact, but seen from an unfamiliar angle.

I think I originally found this book through a brief review in the book catalogue of Stockholm’s Science Fiction bookshop. At the time I wondered why they would list a book like this. Having read it, I understand: even though the story takes place in our world and our reality, it all feels surreal and somewhat alien.