Burdett, John 1951–

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Burdett, John 1951–


Born July 24, 1951, in London, 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., Ste. 241, London SW7 3DQ, England.


Writer and lawyer. 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, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.

The Last Six Million Seconds, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.


Bangkok 8, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Bangkok Tattoo, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.

Bangkok Haunts, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.


The film rights have been sold for A Personal History of Thirst and The Last Six Million Seconds, which have also been adapted as audio recordings. Bangkok 8 has been optioned for film by Millennium Films.


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 murder. 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 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 contributor commented 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 the 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."

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 of a trilogy, Bangkok 8 is set in Thailand and features a Thai police officer named Sonchai Jitpleecheep. 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." David Wright wrote in a Library Journal review that Sonchai is "a highly original sleuth."

In the 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 commented, "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."

A Publishers Weekly contributor called the second book in the "Bangkok" trilogy, Bangkok Tattoo, a "brilliantly cynical mystery thriller." This time, Buddhist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is investigating the murder of an American john at the Old Man's Club. Chanya is the prostitute who was with the disemboweled and castrated victim. A cover-up is immediately put into place for the beautiful and popular Chanya until it's discovered that the dead man was a CIA agent. The brothel's owners also try to frame a Muslim man for the murder by placing a hair from the man at the crime scene. Luan Gaines, writing on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site, noted that "the ubiquitous Sonchai watches all unfold … yearning for Chanya." Gaines added: "Sprinkle in a Japanese tattoo artist … a couple of gruesome murders … a dash of karma and mix well. This is the perfect recipe for a spicy Eastern mystery that is uniquely satisfying." Charles MacArthur Taylor wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Burdett's singular contribution to the contemporary mystery novel may be the way he breaks with the genre's judgmental puritanism when it comes to the sex trade."

Bangkok Haunts is the third book in the trilogy. Camden Alexander, writing on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site, called Bangkok Haunts "a deliciously decadent slide into the seamy world of snuff films." The story finds Sonchai living with Chanya from Bangkok Tattoo. He receives a snuff flick in the mail depicting the murder of Sonchai's ex-lover Damrong. Soon Sonchai and FBI agent Kimberley Jones are tracking down the maker of the film, a trail that leads to them to the heights of power. Still battling with the irritating and corrupt Colonel Vikorn, Sonchai also must deal with his upcoming child by Chanya and Damrong's ghost, who visits him in erotic circumstances. "Is it technically adultery when the woman involved is a powerful, malevolent spirit who bends all men to her will?," wrote Claudio La Rocco in the New York Times. "No, it's a win-win situation, in which readers get their dose of tortured, it-can't-end-well-for-them sex scenes, and Sonchai gets to come out smelling like a rose."

Several other reviewers also praised Bangkok Haunts. A contributor to the New Yorker complimented the author on "the vivid portrait he paints of contemporary Thai life and mores." A Publishers Weekly contributor commended Burdett for "expertly juggling elements that … [could] become confused or hackneyed," adding that the author "has created a haunting, powerful story."

"The Bangkok novels are not the work of a young man," the author told Marie Arana in an article for the Washington Post. "I couldn't have done it without knowing how the world works."

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."



Booklist, May 1, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Bangkok Tattoo, p. 1516; May 1, 2007, Bill Ott, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 24.

Book World, May 15, 2005, Michael Dirda, review of Bangkok Tattoo, p. 15; November 6, 2005, John Burdett, "Tripping: A Young Reporter Stumbles into Bangkok Drug-trafficking," p. 6.

Business Traveller Asia Pacific, September, 2003, review of Bangkok 8, p. 13.

Entertainment Weekly, May 20, 2005, Jennifer Reese, "One Plight in "Bangkok’: John Burdett Returns to Thailand's Sleazy Underworld in His New Novel, Bangkok Tattoo," p. 78; June 24, 2005, review of Bangkok Tattoo, p. 121; June 8, 2007, Jennifer Reese, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Bangkok Tattoo, p. 368; April 15, 2007, review of Bangkok Haunts.

Law Society Journal, September, 2003, Terence Duff, review of Bangkok 8, p. 95.

Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Will Hepfer, review of The Last Six Million Seconds, p. 104; June 1, 2003, David Wright, review of Bangkok 8, p. 163; June 1, 2007, Rebecca Vnuk, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 106.

New Statesman, June 20, 1997, Michael Sheridan, review of The Last Six Million Seconds, p. 44.

New Yorker, July 23, 2007, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 79.

New York Times, June 17, 2003, Michiko Kakutani, review of Bangkok 8, p. E6; July 5, 2007, Claudia La Rocco, "Spicy, Saucy, Subtle, Seasoned: A Thai Meal of Mystery," p. 10; October 25, 2007, Thomas Fuller, "At Home amid the Red Lights," p. 1.

New York Times Book Review, July 6, 2003, David Willis McCullough, "Red Light, Green Light," p. 15; December 7, 2003, review of Bangkok 8, p. 65; June 5, 2005, Charles McArthur Taylor, "Al Qaeda Done It," p. 37.

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 25, 2003, Daisy Maryles, "Banking on Bangkok," p. 16; November 17, 2003, review of Bangkok 8, p. 24; April 25, 2005, review of Bangkok Tattoo, p. 40; April 9, 2007, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 32.

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.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 7, 2003, review of Bangkok 8, p. 5; June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Bangkok Haunts, p. 9.

Washington Post, May 29, 2005, Marie Arana, "John Burdett: Keen-eyed ‘Farang,’" p. BW10.


Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (January 5, 2007), Luan Gaines, review of Bangkok Tattoo, Camden Alexander, review of Bangkok Haunts.

International Herald Tribune Web site,http://www.iht.com/ (October 24, 2007), Thomas Fuller, "John Burdett: Detective Writer at Work in a Seedy Bangkok District."

John Burdett Home Page,http://www.john-burdett.com (January 5, 2008).

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (June 12, 2003), Laura Miller, review of Bangkok 8; (June 6, 2005), Laura Miller, review of Bangkok Tattoo.

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