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“It is the mordant wit of his exhaustively observant ‘monk manqué’ hero that fuels this blissful and dexterous book.”—Houston Chronicle
“This is a novel brimming with observations and arguments, with absurdity and jokes . . . Witty, learned, and wild.”—The Washington Post Book World
“The spiciest yet of Burdett’s exotic dishes.”—The Times (London)
“Burdett’s latest mystery is delightfully ambiguous, like life itself.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Block out several hours to read it in one sitting. Once you start, you won’t get anything else done until you finish it.”—Bookpage (Mystery of the Month)
“A dizzying array of multifaceted storylines. . . . Burdett juggles the various plots with great dexterity . . . A whirlwind of a novel.”—Booklist (starred)
“A blissfully nutty caper that brings back fond memories of the late lamented Ross Thomas’s crazy-quilt crime fiction . . . Distinguishing crooks from good guys is only one of the pleasures [here] . . . Sonchai’s wry narrative voice (think: exotic Philip Marlowe) keeps us hooked.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
We tend to think of crime fiction as reading designed for entertainment -- not education. It delivers an almost pure kind of readerly pleasure -- the mystery solved, justice delivered, roughly or otherwise. But consider, for a moment, how often crime stories concerns themselves with unveiling a society -- or slice of society -- that has received little or the wrong kind of attention. With his Bangkok novels, John Burdett strives for both. As a British expatriate living in Bangkok for more than two decades, it's a given Burdett writes from an outsider's perspective, but he takes this several steps further with the novel's common protagonist, police detective Sonchai Jitpleetcheep, moving well beyond entertainment towards the more Socratic (and idiosyncratic) goals of fiction -- they make you think again about what you might have thought you knew.
The proof is in the opening lines of The Godfather of Kathmandu: "Ours is an age of enforced psychosis. I'll forgive yours, farang, if you'll forgive mine -- but let's talk about it later." Right away Burdett establishes Sonchai's didactic attitude towards the reader, equal parts contempt and curiosity. There's confrontation in Sonchai's reminder here (just as in his three previous appearances, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts) that the reader is a farang, a foreigner, and thus the other, someone to be admonished or cajoled, addressed directly or skilfully evaded.
But because Sonchai himself is part-farang (his mother, Nong, runs a high-demand brothel; his father is of murky European origin) his roots and occupation shunt him to theperiphery of a Thai society bound by hierarchy and class. Thus Sonchai's attitude extends just as much to himself -- in all its confrontational and evasive glory. And it's that sense of evasion that forms the heart of the series to date, for we, the readers, are made aware of certain things at inopportune times, subject to Sonchai's whims of storytelling that digress, tease, and get to the point when he chooses.
This sort of literary fencing is a risky proposition, and I found that Burdett's previous three books fell short of his Socratic ideal. The crimes Sonchai investigates are lurid and clue-ridden, but solutions come as an afterthought. The character of Kimberley Jones, an FBI agent who morphs from adversary to friend, embraces Eastern culture in a manner that distractingly echoes "Victor/Victoria" -- in this case, an American woman pretending to be a Thai woman pretending to be an American professional. The wild and woolly narrative expands and contracts, traveling on tangential strands that bear little relation to the main story.
But a funny thing happened while reading those same three books, as each produced a peculiar sensation that can only be described as akin to the hallucinogens Sonchai ingests in order to bridge spiritual enlightenment with his more down-to-earth profession of homicide investigation. When immersed in the story, I felt disoriented, uncomfortable, my sense of what crime fiction is supposed to be knocked off-kilter by forces I couldn't quite identify. Sonchai's perpetual reminder of the reader's hopeless conformity to farang status applied equally well to hapless critics with specific categorical intentions. Once I put the book down, I wanted another dose, another opportunity to see if Burdett would, in fact, inch closer to his platonic ideal of commercial fiction.
Maybe it's the deviation from the title scheme, or Sonchai's tempered arrogance ("Confession: I provoked the world and the world turned on me.") or Burdett's increasing comfort pushing against genre constraints, but The Godfather of Kathmandu comes the closest to its idealized overall objective. In doing so it more or less inverts the traditional crime narrative, fully relegating the story's so-called inciting force of murder behind Sonchai's overt search for personal redemption.
He has good reason to be on a spiritual quest: his partner in policing, Pichai, has been dead for years, and now so too is Sonchai's same-named son, splitting apart his once-happy marriage to Chanya and leaving the detective in a rather precarious spot. Finally, he had succumbed to the Bangkok style of policing, i.e. taking bribes and running "errands" (of a most illegal variety) for his swaggering boss Vikorn, the newest one requiring several jaunts to the snow-covered hills of Nepal's capital city to flush out a competitor and snare a new drug supplier. Sonchai's better-paying side job intersects with the measly pay of legitimate policing when the body of a well-known American filmmaker, Frank Charles, is found, grotesquely mirroring the handiwork of the fictional psychopath Hannibal Lecter (down to the brain cannibalism) and, eventually, connected to the drug-running goings-on in Nepal and Tibet.
There's plenty of busywork for Sonchai as a result, but even more than before, the insight into the detective's inner life takes the main stage. Before their marriage goes on hiatus, Chanya pinpoints his contradictory nature just after she advises him to take Vikorn's offer: "I love you so much, and I love you most for your conscience. You're the most genuinely devout Buddhist I know. Everyone else follows the rules. You really think about karma and reincarnation. It's very admirable." But Sonchai feels the appropriate mix of guilt and self-loathing: "my noble sacrifice of integrity only made me feel like I was drowning in a sewer."
Even Sonchai's detecting skills are questioned, his assumptions about the victim challenged by the person responsible for the murder: "you are a terrible naïf," the murderer taunts, "and this leads you to misjudge human character. You are still thinking of Frank as a victim, just because he got bumped off. Actually, it was the opposite. When farang get greedy, they have no restraint . . . no fancy psychological component, just old-fashioned greed and the American predatory spirit."
Burdett also ups the ante on digression, playing with the role of narrator as evader. At a key point, Sonchai whispers, "Now, reader dear, would you permit a pause in the breathless narrative while I sing praises? Briefly, if it's God you're after...the Pilgrim's Bookshop is the outfit for you." Or take Sonchai's penchant for announcing his current whereabouts to his readers at all times: "I'm still here, farang, at the Rose Garden. I've commuted from the bathroom to the bar, but I'm way too stoned to order alcohol." Instead of irritating, these tangents serve a greater purpose: showing the reader how Sonchai hesitates to confronts basic truths about his nature, about merging spiritual peace with more carnal pursuits (hence the mind-blowing sex with a Tibetan temptress mid-way through the novel.)
Sonchai, however, doesn't discard his tendency to confront the reader, and as a result we are confronted with some well-stated truths, like "violence...is a form of lust, a primitive kind of consumerism: early capitalism, you might say." And as for our Bangkok sleuth, he inches ever closer to climbing out of "the filthy continuum" -- which is all a tortured cop can ever hope for. --Sarah Weinman
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted January 16, 2010
To summarize this novel is a challenge beyond me, so suffice it to say that I have read Burdett's other novels involving Sonchai Jitpleecheep and was at first put off by Burdett's opening pages. Only when the action shifted from Nepal to Bangkok was I back in familiar territory, and then I was along for the ride. In retrospect, the first 70 pages or so are meant to weed out any one not serious about going along on this tale of mystic spirituality and corruption. Yet I felt highly rewarded for sticking with it, and cannot imagine the mind that created all of this intrigue and madness. So, I do recommend that you trust yourself to Burdett, and take it on faith that you will be satisfied. But, that's only if you read the whole book.
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Posted January 15, 2010
In Bangkok Colonel Vikorn assigns his willing subordinate Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep to protect his illegal kickbacks and recent major drug purchase from Nepal from his allegedly as avaricious boss General Zinna. However, as they work the counter attacks to bring down the vicious General, a nasty homicide occurs that forces the Buddhist sleuth to investigate.
Someone killed Hollywood director Frank Charles who regularly visited Thailand to enjoy sexual pleasures. The victim was sliced and diced and apparently his brains dined a la The Silence of the Lambs. At the same time he struggles with making progress in the investigation that has global interest, Sonchai has issues with wife who has left him to become a nun since their offspring died, the actress Tara of Tantric fame, and the amazing criminal Dr. Moi. All that aside, it is being Vikorn's consigliore to the man's Godfather that has him mentally counting cash. His enlightened Tibetan guru Doctor Norbu Tietsin insists the Godfather loot is irrelevant when the Tibetan invasion of China one thought at a time is almost as crucial as selling his stash of heroin.
This is an insane Thailand police procedural that feels like Elmore Leonard gave guidance to John Burdett. Unlike the previous Bangkok cases starring the felonious cop Sonchai (see Bangkok Haunts, Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo); the star's personal life overwhelms the investigation. Still this is a very enjoyable tale as Sonchai knows he made on major error in judgment when he gave his superior the Godfather DVDs.
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Posted January 20, 2014
Posted March 4, 2012
While this latest Sonchai detective story was not as cohesive as the first three, and a little scattered in terms of its multiple storylines, it was still a satisfying whodunit. The dark humor of the series was just as plentiful as before, and there many chuckles to be had. Especially: Vikorn's ecological rationale for selling smack to Americans, how intuition reduces paperwork, comments on the British empire, and Sukun trying to be inconspicuous. It was also fun to see Sonchai bested spiritually by some Tibetans, although, when it comes to women, he is usually as capable as the three boys from the WoT series.
There were a couple of things that brought down my esteem of this latest mystery. One was the repetition of certain details that always crop up throughout the series: the mentioning of the special food stalls that open up when the girls get off work, the commentary of seeing all the abandoned building while riding the elevated tramway, the kid with the broken windshield wiper, "there was a ship in the way," Zegna/Givenchy/Baker-Benjes ensemble, reptilian incarnations trapping one in sexual jealousy, etc.
Also, annoying was the handling of exposition/recap of the previous books, such as Sonchai's explanation of his beliefs to Vikorn, Sonchai's incorruptible aspirations, "I surprised him with my total recall of the event", his "father" Traffaut, etc. I can understand needing some sort of perspective for a series, if you've picked up in the middle, but I've never understood why anyone would want to read only part of a series. Also, I like to re-read books, or read a web synopsis to refresh my memory. That's why I've never understood why it's in books. At least, the author is not recapping things from the actual novel that's being read, like Ken Follett likes to do. My co-worker tells me that I am abnormal, in reading books back-to-back, as frequently as I do, and other people need the refresher. So, I guess you can disregard this whole paragraph.
Anyhoo, if you like the series, then you will like this book. Sonchai is admittedly more of a consigliore than a detective, but he still likes to solve the crime, even if he can't do anything about it. When Sonchai admits this, it's a reminder of the underlying reason to read the series. Behind the wicked humor, and the dark mysteries from book to book, lies Sonchai's spiritual journey to become a good Buddhist.
Posted January 4, 2012
Posted October 28, 2011
This is a fabulous book without question. The characters are compelling and the story line is logical. You'll also learn quite a bit about Thai culture. I heartily recommend this series for those who enjoy mystery and intrigue.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2011
Book 4 in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series
The writer's speciality is to take his readers on an exotic and mysterious jaunt exploring the back streets of Bangkok where sex is a marketable commodity. He drags us into a culture unknown to many with his observations of the drug trade and official corruption. He also touches through his protagonist the religious customs of Tibetan Buddhism.
As the book opens, Sonchai is struggling with the loss of his son and is depending more and more on a mixture of drugs and Buddhism to carry on his day to day life. Nevertheless he takes on the case of Frank Charles, a famous film director, murdered in a gruesome manner at a local flophouse.
Meanwhile, Sonchai's boss, Colonel Vikorn, is drawn into an alliance with his arch rival officer Zinna in one of the biggest drug deals to date. He appoints Sonchai as his trusted "Consigliere" to assist him in his dealings and on various errands. The word on the street between drug mules leads Sonchai to Kathmandu where he falls under the influence of his mantra and is smitten by Tara, a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist refugee. Eventually he returns to Bangkok and retargets his efforts to the Frank Charles investigation, finding the cause of death and the true culprit becomes a priority...
Sonchai narrates many of his thoughts in the first person and shares them with his "farang" (western reader) as though the reader was his guardian angel. He also purveys a rather cynical tone and switches between the present and the past tense. His character is well-crafted, a rather unique, unusual and bizarre detective. The story is written with the intricacies of crime and the culture and seasoned with a vivid description of food, sights and the sounds of a vibrant city. The plot is meaty although I found the style to be challenging with its many surprises that continually jockey for the readers' attention.
To enjoy this series depends strongly on personal taste; I find I am slowly losing interest.
Posted May 14, 2010
The Godfather of Kathmandu is another excellent installment of the Sanchai Jitpleecheep series. I read it during some air travel I had to for business and it was a welcome bit of escapism from the daily grind. I particularly enjoy Mr. Burdett's insight into the Thai world view and how different it is from the our western one. However at points having it explicitly pointed out to us repeatedly in this novel gets a bit old, yet despite that they story was still a lot of fun and kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed the new Tibetan characters introduced in this story as well as the transformative journey that Sanchai took. I highly recommend the entire series for anyone looking for some fun reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2010
John Burdett's Buddist detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the son and partner of a Bangkok whore, is nevertheless a kind of "holy man." Trained in a Buddish temple, he sees the past lives of people areound him, and uses these senses, as well as his wits, to help solve the brutal crimes he is confronted with in his job as a detective in one of the most corrupt police forces in the world. Filled with fascinating characters, romantic adventures (occasional aching tenderness) and a twisting plot that submerges the reader in the drugs, sex and violence of the Bangkok streets,this series of novels will leave you breathless and hoping for more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 27, 2010
I enjoyed this book as much as the rest in the series. It got a bit of flack by some other reviewers but it really digs into the internal struggle of Sonchai's position as cop/concsigliere/buddhist. It was also a good turn from the usual stomping grounds of the prostitute bars and other parts of Thailand. This book was more focused on the crime, the deal, and Sonchai's spirituality and it all makes a great story. Burdett's writing style keeps the reader engaged and wanting more. I would consider this book a great addition to the series, one of the best only if the rest of the series is read first.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2010
This book has a very interesting story and sub-plot. It is especially great for anyone who has travelled to Thailand and is familiar with Thai culture and the tenets of buddhism.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2010
If you've read any of Sonchai's three previous capers, you know what you're in for with The Godfather of Kathmandu: Exotic locations, an Eastern view of the Universe, a charming condescension (you know of what I speak, farang), and an interesting story. Don't bother trying to figure this one out. Just enjoy the ride.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2010
Posted February 2, 2010
If Burdett's first three Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels were the basic course in how an aspiring Buddhist cop faces the collision of East and West, The Godfather of Kathmandu is the advanced accelerated curriculum. Simultaneously hilarious and pessimistic about the world to come, this novel is so well-written that I began re-reading it immediately after I finished it the first time. An excellent read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 2, 2010
I love books involving Asia. Among my favorites, so I was looking forward to this one. Dumb plot, no action and lots of redundant, spiritual gibberish. This was awful.
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Posted January 28, 2010
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Posted May 24, 2011
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Posted July 2, 2011
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Posted June 20, 2011
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Posted March 27, 2011
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