July 07, 2003 12:00 PM

By John Burdett

Like Thai cuisine, Burdett’s comic thriller blends spicy, sour, salty and sweet—and makes for a delicious wake-up for jaded palates. Bangkok cop Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the son of a bar girl and a long-departed GI, is a devout Buddhist and, by his own estimate, pretty much the only honest cop in Thailand. And in Burdett’s gleefully seamy depiction—the author apologizes for his fictional excesses in an afterword—perhaps the nation’s only honest citizen. With 61 million people “engaged in a criminal enterprise of one sort or another,” Jitpleecheep notes, “no wonder my people smile a lot.” When his partner dies investigating a bizarre murder—a U.S. Marine attacked by snakes—Jitpleecheep vows to find the killer. Expertly navigating from the methamphetamine underworld to the U.S. embassy bureaucracy, the detective offers a hilariously absurd tour, even if tangled plotting occasionally leaves an off flavor. (Knopf, $24)

BOTTOM LINE: Tasty thriller

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