Burdett, John 1951-
BURDETT, John 1951-
Born July 24, 1951, in England; son of Frank and Eva Burdett; married Laura Liguori, April 7, 1995. Ethnicity: "Anglo-Irish." Education: Warwick University and College of Law, B.A. and Qualified Barrister. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, SCUBA diving, Southeast Asia, French language and culture, building construction.
Office—2 Old Brompton Rd., Suite 241, London SW7 3DQ, England.
Barrister at law in London, England; Government of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, former barrister in Attorney General's Department; Johnson, Stokes & Master, Hong Kong, former partner; currently a full-time writer.
Crime Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Oriental Club, Reform Club (London, England).
A Personal History of Thirst (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
The Last Six Million Seconds (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Bangkok 8 (first novel in trilogy), Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Bangkok Tattoo (second novel in trilogy), Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
A Personal History of Thirst and The Last Six Million Seconds have been adapted as audio recordings, and film rights have also been sold for these first two novels.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
One more novel to complete the trilogy begun with Bangkok 8.
A former British barrister, John Burdett has become known as a writer of crime fiction. His first novel, A Personal History of Thirst, is set in London during the 1970s and involves a love triangle between an attorney, his client, and an American woman. James Knight is an ambitious lawyer from a blue-collar family, Oliver Thirst is a thief whom James has successfully defended in court, and Daisy Smith is the woman involved with both men who is accused of killing Oliver. Both Daisy and James have secrets in their past—Daisy is still suffering the psychological effects of having grown up with an abusive father, and James has even darker secrets that compel him to help Oliver even after he is no longer his client. The strange mix of characters from different strata in society also provides Burdett with fodder to touch on the theme of class prejudices in England; the novel comes together in the end with a trial that a Publishers Weekly contributor called the "most compelling—and funny—part" of a "sharp-eyed amorality tale."
Burdett spent part of his legal career working for the attorney general in Hong Kong while that city was still under British rule, and he draws on this experience to write his fiction based in Asia. The Last Six Million Seconds is set in Hong Kong during the last few weeks before the scheduled Chinese takeover of the city in 1997. Against this backdrop, Burdett weaves a thriller that begins when half-Irish, half-Chinese Inspector Chan Siukai runs across the severed heads of three murder victims. He soon discovers that this is not a simple case of murder, but rather a crime that leads him to uncover the machinations of several politically motivated groups—including British diplomats, Chinese Communists, the American mafia, and a Chinese warlord trying to build a nuclear bomb—who are all working to see who will control Hong Kong after the power transition. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Burdett's "prose marches rather than flows, and a few of his characters verge on stereotype," Will Hepfer maintained in Library Journal that the novel displays "good characterizations, a fascinating locale, and a well-crafted plot." Michael Sheridan, in his review for New Statesman, described The Last Six Million Seconds as an "airport trash novel," but nevertheless enjoyed how "Burdett conveys a sense of what Hong Kong is really like, from the rank whiff of girlie bars in Mongkok to the bloody roast beef at the Hong Kong Club." Despite such reservations on the part of some other critics, Library Journal contributor James Dudley asserted that Burdett's second novel "is a brilliant tour de force."
While Burdett's first novel was set in London and his second, as he told Publishers Weekly interviewer Adam Dunn, "was, frankly, an opportunistic narrative which capitalized on the worldwide publicity surrounding the return of Hong Kong to China," the author said that his third novel, Bangkok 8, "is the first time I have entirely cut loose from a Western point of view." The first novel in a planned trilogy, Bangkok 8 is set in Thailand and features a Thai police officer named Sonchai Jitplecheep. At the beginning of the book, Sonchai and his partner find an American marine who has died of a cobra bite; when his partner is also killed by a cobra that has been drugged with methamphetamines, Sonchai goes on a mission of revenge, delving into the seedy drug and sex trade of Thailand to find the killer who planted the snake near the drugs. Many reviewers of Bangkok 8 particularly praised Burdett's characterization of Sonchai, a Buddhist whose beliefs in reincarnation flavor the text with stream-of-consciousness mysticism. For example, a Publishers Weekly contributor stated that "Sonchai's fatalism, wry humor and dogged determination… make him one of the more memorable characters in recent novel-length fiction." And David Wright said in a Library Journal review that Sonchai is "a highly original sleuth."
In New York Times, Michiko Kakutani praised Bangkok 8 for its initial energy and interesting story, but added that "as the case grows increasingly Byzantine, Mr. Burdett's plotting goes into manic hyperdrive." Kakutani also felt that the novel's female characters are not believable, and that sordid details about Bangkok's sex industry are "shoehorned into the story line with awkward narrative devices." Though Bangkok 8 begins with a "promising premise," Kakutani concluded, "the novel devolves into… a mess of borrowings and cheap set pieces." New York Times Book Review contributor David Willis McCullough, however, found the book "quirky, talky, and highly entertaining." The "overwhelming presence of the sprawling, chaotic, illogical city [of Bangkok]," he wrote, "invigorates this remarkable novel and makes it something to enjoy for its sheer bravado."
Burdett once told CA: "I had wanted to write since the age of fourteen, but I took up law because I was afraid of being poor. I wrote my first book on a whim. I was living in Hong Kong and decided to write a novel about London, where I had grown up and spent the first part of my career. My second novel is about Hong Kong. It arose from my fascination for Southeast Asia in general. I am motivated by narrative passion and a belief that Southeast Asia will be the future focus of much cultural and economic interest."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Will Hepfer, review of The Last Six Million Seconds, p. 104; September 1, 1997, James Dudley, review of The Last Six Million Seconds (sound recording), p. 234; June 1, 2003, David Wright, review of Bangkok 8, p. 163.
New Statesman, June 20, 1997, Michael Sheridan, review of The Last Six Million Seconds, p. 44.
New York Times, June 17, 2003, Michiko Kakutani, review of Bangkok 8, p. E6.
New York Times Book Review, July 6, 2003, David Willis McCullough, "Red Light, Green Light," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1995, review of A Personal History of Thirst, p. 41; April 22, 1996, Paul Nathan, "Road from Hong Kong," p. 24; January 6, 1997, review of The Last Six Million Seconds, p. 64; May 12, 2003, review of Bangkok 8, p. 41, Adam Dunn, "Crime and Cops, Thai-Style: Talks with John Burdett," p. 42; August 4, 2003, review of Bangkok 8 (sound recording), p. 20.
Time, August 11, 2003, Lev Grossman, "If You Read Only One Mystery Novel This Summer.… Oh, Who Are We Trying to Kid? There's No Way We Could Choose Just One. Here Are Six of the Season's Twistiest, Tautest, Most Tantalizing Tales of Sleuthery," p. 58.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/books (June 12, 2003), Laura Miller, review of Bangkok 8.*