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The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #4)

The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #4)

4.0 37
by John Burdett

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John Burdett's famed Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is put to the test both as a Buddhist and as a cop as he confronts the most shocking crime of his career.
A rich American film director has been murdered. It is an intriguing case, and solving it could lead to a promotion for Sonchai, but, as always, he is far more concerned with


John Burdett's famed Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is put to the test both as a Buddhist and as a cop as he confronts the most shocking crime of his career.
A rich American film director has been murdered. It is an intriguing case, and solving it could lead to a promotion for Sonchai, but, as always, he is far more concerned with the state of his karma than he is with his status in the earthly realm. To complicate matters his boss, Colonel Vikorn, has decided to make Sonchai his consigliere in a heroin smuggling operation. Sonchai travels to Kathmandu to meet Vikorn's connection Tietsin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and falls under the sway of this dark and charismatic guru.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Burdett's fever-dream mysteries recast the police procedural as psychedelic peep show."--The New Yorker
"John Burdett is writing the most exciting set of crime novels in the world."--The Oregonian
"Godfather is written with Burdett's characteristic zest, serving up pungent slices of Bangkok's bazaars and waterways."--The Boston Globe
"A Thai tale of corruption, mayhem and intrigue."--San Francisco Chronicle

“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)

Publishers Weekly
The vivid portrait of 21st-century Thailand in part redeems the meandering plot of Burdett's fourth thriller to feature corrupt Bangkok police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep (after Bangkok Haunts). Jitpleecheep, a marijuana-smoking Buddhist whose marriage collapsed after his young son's death, investigates the peculiar murder of Frank Charles, a Hollywood director who regularly visited Thailand to sample the sexual delights offered by its young women. Someone disemboweled Charles, then cut his skull open and dined on his brains. Among the victim's books at the crime scene are The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Too much musing on spiritual awakenings and Tibetan philosophy as well as commentary on mundane details of daily life distract from the search for Charles's killer and a related subplot involving the heroin-smuggling operation controlled by Jitpleecheep's boss, Colonel Vikorn. Hopefully, Burdett will regain his usual narrative snap next time. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep (Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts) of the Royal Thai Police generally investigates crimes involving farangs, or Westerners, because he is half farang himself. But rival Sukum wants a high-profile case involving a famous American because he hopes that it will allow him to finally attain his long-desired promotion. This suits the preoccupied Sonchai, who has been made police colonel Vikorn's "consigliere" in the matter of a purchase of $40 million worth of opium from a mysterious Tibetan refugee in Nepal. Dr. Tietsin has also become the grieving Sonchai's guru in the ways of Tibetan Buddhism. Sonchai's son has recently died, and his wife has left him to become a nun. VERDICT The central mystery here is not the "Case of the Fat Farang" but whether Sonchai will survive his own internal conflicts of guilt, grief, bliss, and duty. Obviously, this is not your typical police procedural, but it will reward mystery readers ready for something unusual. Fans of Timothy Hallinan's Bangkok mysteries might like it.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids
Kirkus Reviews
Distinguishing crooks from good guys is only one of the pleasures and challenges offered by the fourth in Burdett's series chronicling the morally compromised adventures of Thai policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheek (Bangkok Haunts, 2007, etc.). The framing story concerns Sonchai's assignment to protect his greedy boss Colonel Vikorn's graft from Bangkok's illegal enterprises against the ambitions of the latter's brutal superior General Zinna. Offering to help Vikorn come out on top is defrocked Tibetan lama Tietsin, who also peddles drugs and is rumored to be fomenting Tibet's takeover of China. Distracting from their campaign against Zinna is the nasty murder of morbidly obese American film director Frank Charles, as well as the detainment of a hot babe drug mule who Knows Too Much For Her Own Good. Sonchai shuttles among Nepal, Hong Kong, Kathmandu and other places of interest, haunted by recurring memories of his six-year-old son's terrible illness and death. Further bedevilments are provided by his estranged wife, Chanya, his law-defying pragmatic mom, Nong, and such troublesome dames as sexually available "actress" Tara and elusive Doctor Moi, "the most exotic criminal in Thailand." The movies are of course materially involved. Colonel Vikorn avidly studies the Godfather films and adopts Corleone family power tactics (e.g., anointing Sonchai his consigliere). A notorious noir film, if re-mastered, may answer the burning question: Did Frank Charles fake his own death? Though the novel is top-heavy with redundant interview-interrogations, Sonchai's wry narrative voice (think: exotic Philip Marlowe) keeps us hooked until General Zinna pulls off a climactic double-cross and Sonchai begins tounderstand how Tietsin just may accomplish "the silent invasion of China by Tibetan thought."A blissfully nutty caper that brings back fond memories of the late lamented Ross Thomas' crazy-quilt crime fiction. First printing of 60,000

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series , #4
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Godfather of Kathmandu

By John Burdett


Copyright © 2011 John Burdett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400097074


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 now I’m on the back of a motorbike taxi hurtling toward a to-die-for little murder off Soi 4/4, Sukhumvit. My boss, Colonel Vikorn, called me at home with the good news that he wants me on the case because the victim is said to be some hyper-rich, hyper-famous Hollywood farang and he doesn’t need poor Detective Sukum screwing up with the media. We’ll get to Detective Sukum; for the moment picture me, if you will, a Eurasian Bangkok cop on my way to one of our most popular red-light districts with a Force 8 tropical wind in my face causing eyes to tear and ears to itch, where there awaits an overweight dead Westerner.

I’m nearly there. With a little urging my motorbike jockey drives up onto the sidewalk to avoid the massive traffic jam at the Soi 4 junction with Sukhumvit, weaves in between a long line of cooked-food vendors busy feeding the whores from Nana Plaza who have just gotten up (it’s about eleven in the morning), slaloms between a mango seller and a lamppost, returns to the tarmac with the usual jolt to the lower spine, and now we’re slowing to swerve into Subsoi 4. (Should one add the two fours to make the lucky number eight, or should one accept the stark warning: two fours mean death twice within the Cantonese luck system, which has taken over the world as a vital component of globalization?) Finally, here we are with a couple of squad cars and a forensic van in the parking area of the flophouse to welcome yours truly on this fair morning.

Also waiting for me is my long-haired assistant, Lek, a katoey— transsexual—who has not yet scraped together the courage or the funds for the final op. He avoids the supernatural brightness in my eyes (I’ve been meditating all night) to inform me, sotto voce, that Detective Sukum is here before me and has already developed possessive feelings toward the cadaver. The good Sukum is half a grade above me, and we are rivals for promotion. Like any jungle carnivore, Sukum is hunched over the kill as if it were all his own work—and who can blame him? Necrophilia is a professional hazard on any murder squad, and I have no doubt my rival is slobbering over his magnificent prize, just as if he had come across the Koh-i-noor diamond in a sewer. Within the value system into which we were all inducted at cadet school, this murder is everyone’s definition of ruang yai: a big one. It will be interesting to see how Sukum handles my inconvenient arrival. I think I might be able to surprise him.

Lek leads me past the guards’ hut into the parking deck which is also the entrance area for a ten-story apartment building that was erected in a hurry fifteen years ago in order to profit on a no-frills basis from the sexual frustration of Western men over the age of forty: a fail-proof business decision, the owners got their money back in the first three years and it’s been honey all the way ever since. Paint is chipped and flaking from the walls, revealing white plaster with occasional graffiti (Fuck you, farang, in Thai; Sarlee, you were so good last night, in English); the lift is tiny—even the slim Lek and I find ourselves embarrassingly close for a moment. (Our clash of colognes reveals our sexual orientations. He will use nothing less than Chanel No. 5, which he begs from my mother, Nong; mine is a rugged, take-no-prisoners little number from Armani.)

“This could be one for the FBI,” I say in the elevator.

“She’s stuck in Virginia,” Lek says. “Poor little thing broke her arm during combat training. She was fighting two instructors at the same time, and of course they both came off worse, but she still can’t really call herself one of the boys because she’s in love with me. Don’t tell her I said that.”

“Kimberley? Really?”

“She sent me an e-mail yesterday.”

Kimberley Jones, an FBI agent, is a friend of mine and Lek’s. Especially Lek’s. It’s a long story. She worked with me on a few cases of an international nature and fell in love with Lek, which awkward fact has confused the hell out of her. Does her lust for a transsexual make her a dyke or not? I fear there is little in your culture, farang, to provide guidance on this conundrum—so she calls me all the time.

The corridor on the fourth floor leads to room 422, where two uniformed cops are stationed.

They part to let us into the apartment, where a massive dead American at least six feet long waits propped up in semi-sitting position on a bed wearing only a gigantic pair of shorts, over the top of which a great wormy mass of intestines has flopped like tripe in a butcher’s shop. (His bed is so narrow that parts of his flesh sag over each side, and one has to wonder how he coped when engaged in sexual congress.) The drama of this center-screen image at first makes the various slim Thai cops and forensic technicians seem like a chorus to a Greek tragedy. Then Sukum steps forward.

Detective Sukum Montri is a good-looking Thai cop in his early thirties, very upright and proper when not consumed by fear, aggression, and lust—like the rest of us; but right now I discern in his eyes the fire of one who has decided that this is the moment when the fig leaf of comradeship must be dropped by both protagonists to reveal the competing stiffness of their virile members. Well, I have good news for him: today, thanks to the way my psychosis is hanging, I’m all metas—Sanskrit for “loving-kindness.” However, it is important not to spoil people. I shall break the good news that I don’t give a damn about promotion today—or for the rest of my life—later. For the moment, let us enjoy Sukum.

He wears a black jacket, black pants, white shirt, thin pink nylon tie (pink because it’s Tuesday—our days of the week are color coded), all items generic, i.e., not good enough to qualify as fakes. The jacket is particularly narrow at the shoulders, pinching under the arms and badly crumpled, even though I’m sure it was freshly pressed yesterday. (Our gifted imitators of French and Italian haute couture would never be so crass; Sukum’s tailor, if he has one, must be Thai Chinese of the old cloth-saving school.)

“Good morning, Detective.” I take careful note of the position of his hands as he wais me (palms pressed together and raised to mouth level, with precisely the right mindful pause), before I wai him back in exactly the same way. Sukum coughs. “It’s very kind of you to rush over to help me out,” he says. I grunt noncommittally, causing a brief grin to cross Lek’s face.

“Of course your special input will be most welcome.” Sukum is talking about my perfect English, which I learned from my mother’s customers, and my half-farang blood, which gives me a unique insight into the mysterious Western mind.


“Oh, yes. But let’s not get carried away.”

“Oh, absolutely.”

Here Sukum drops his tone almost to a whisper. “Let me be frank: the unwritten rule that you get farang murders only applies when the murderer is also farang. It doesn’t apply when a Thai whore snuffs a farang.”

I insert the pinkie of my left hand into my left ear, which is still itching from the motorbike ride, and work the wax around a bit. “Really? Forgive me, Khun Sukum, but is there not a failure of logic in what you have just said? How would one know until the end of the case if the perp were Thai or farang?”

“I knew you were going to say that,” he snaps. “Look, this is obviously a Thai hit.” I ostentatiously move my eyes up and down the gash from the victim’s solar plexus almost to the pubic area; the corpse is so massive it is hard to imagine a little Thai girl standing on tippy-toe so she can get a good angle with the boning knife. I allow Sukum a skeptical stare. “Okay, it’s a bit ambitious for a girl, but you know how they go when they get angry. Maybe he insisted on buggering her and she got mad—our girls can be picky these days.”

“But didn’t I hear someone say that he’s famous?”

“You mean it’s a paid hit? Maybe, but if it’s a hit, it’s bound to be by a Thai. In Thailand ninety-nine point nine percent of professional hits are by Thais,” he says patriotically.

“Is that an official statistic? Perhaps you are right, Khun Sukum. Mind if I look around?”

Mostly I’m staring at the dead American. His hair is long and gray and swept back in a ponytail; a gray beard expands an already gigantic face. His mouth is half open, and a little blood is trickling from one corner. When I shift my glance to the rest of the apartment, I immediately become mesmerized by the books. It occurs to me that Sukum has no English.

I take a couple of surreptitious steps in the direction of the bookshelves, which are thinly populated with a set of novels and screenplays. My eyes fixate insanely when I come to a collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I turn my back so Sukum cannot see the intensely puzzled frown on my face, which only increases when I check the other titles. I finally manage to tear my eyes away, and pace the room for a moment. I am careful not to take any more notice of the bookshelves. For a moment my eyes rest on the cheap cathode-ray TV on a stand with a DVD player hooked up to it on a lower shelf.

“Khun Sukum,” I say, my hands clasped gently behind my back as I pace, “would you do me the honor of indulging a whim of mine? Would you open the victim’s mouth and tell me if you see there either a small pebble or an imago, or possibly both?”

Suspicious, Sukum opens the giant’s mouth and slips in his fingers, then pulls out a large black imago and a pebble. He is staring at me with fear, loathing, and envy-driven hatred. “How in Buddha’s name did you—”

“And I think, Khun Sukum, you had better examine the top of the victim’s skull, in the area of the fontanel; you might want to pull at the hair in that area, give it a good tug, that’s right.”

As he does so, a large circular section of the skull, which amounts to the whole of the top of the head, comes away with the hair. Now we have a clear view of the victim’s brain, still bright red under the protective membrane, but with a few folds missing from the left lobe.

When Sukum stares wildly at me, I allow my eyes to divert to a small and squalid coffee table on which a paper plate and a plastic spoon have been left. Now Sukum is shuddering involuntarily, Lek is astounded at my brilliance, and everyone is staring at me. I shrug. Sukum shakily replaces the victim’s scalp, carefully trying to fit it into place like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that might get damaged if he forces it, then looks up at me. “I don’t know how you did that; it must be your farang blood.” I feel bad for him as I watch his ambition sag, his identity crumple. Finally, with weary detachment after a heroic inner struggle: “Okay, it’s your case, obviously the assassin was a farang, we don’t have any Thai murderers that crazy.”

I shake my head and tut. “No, no, my dear Khun Sukum, I would not dream of standing between you and your life’s ambition of becoming a detective sergeant. Wouldn’t dream of it, my dear chap. Look, why don’t you simply use me as a resource—here’s my private cell phone number, call me whenever you get stuck, hey?”

Lek is pulling at my sleeve; he has something private and confidential to communicate. “Look, I’ve got to go now, let’s meet for a brainstorming session sometime soon. It’s okay, your name will be on the file, I don’t want any credit, just the honor of helping out in a spectacular case.” I smile as Lek pulls me out of the room. At the door I add, “I know you’ve thought of it already, Detective Sukum, but just in case it has inexplicably escaped your notice, the victim was not staying here. No clothes or other signs of habitation, you see, only a few books. I would check with all the five-star hotels hereabout, if I were you.” Sukum knows so little about farang, he still doesn’t get it. “He was probably hiring the room for sex, while living in some five-star suite at the Dusit Thani or something.” Sukum nods, trying to get his head around the idea that someone might rent two hotel rooms at the same time, just to be discreet. Now that really does say ruey ruey in Thai: fabulously rich.

In the lift on the way back to the ground floor, a silent trickle of tears flows down Lek’s cheeks.

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett Copyright © 2011 by John Burdett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Burdett is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts. He divides his time between Thailand and France.

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The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #4) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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. Harriet Klausner
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Camboron More than 1 year ago
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.
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Emmalini More than 1 year ago
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.
Tigerpaw70 More than 1 year ago
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.
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