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Book Review: by Lang Reid
latest offering from author John Burdett (Bangkok Haunts, Bangkok 8, Bangkok
Tattoo) is The Godfather of Kathmandu published in 2010 (Bantam
Press, ISBN 978-0-593-05546-5).
The book is another in his Thai/farang detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep
series, continuing with his rather odd katoey sidekick Lek, billed as
Bangkok’s only transsexual policeman. In my previous reviews of Burdett’s
Bangkok series I have expressed my problems of accepting the persona of
detective Sonchai, who is far too westernized for me to accept as credible.
In this book, I had the same difficulty.
Detective Sonchai continues to have a problem with his Police Colonel bent
boss, who’s protagonist is another bent high ranker, but this time an army
general. This concept of police versus army in Thailand is, however, very
believable, and author Burdett uses this to effect.
The book opens with the death of a rich American, whose body is discovered
in a flop house close to Nana Entertainment Plaza. The book thus begins with
a realistic situation, though can get somewhat surreal after that.
Burdett’s books do give a good description of how the Thai society actually
works, with its system of patronage and multiple contacts. “Everything that
happens in Thailand happens thanks to go-betweens; it’s our Chinese side,”
says Sonchai. And one of his murder suspects Dr. Moi’s reflection, “This is
Thai society: it’s not the law that destroys you, it’s the gossip.”
In the middle of local investigations, Detective Sonchai is sent to
Kathmandu by his Police Colonel after he agrees to assist his boss in his
drug dealings, with 250,000 baht per month as the incentive. With a
policeman’s pay unlikely to be more than 50,000 baht, it was not a decision
over which Sonchai had to deliberate for a long time. His wife and his
mother, both of whom are in the noble profession of the bar business had
also previously agreed. In Thailand, as in most of the world, money talks,
but can talk louder here.
His time in Nepal was to set him along a quasi-occultism path, but
eventually he is given the task of getting his boss and his arch-enemy to
work together on one giant drug shipment. The machinations and final details
on how this occurs are just so unbelievable for the uninitiated, but totally
believable to anyone who experienced in high-end Thai politics.
The book also reveals detective Sonchai’s voyage with his personal
exploration of Buddhism and how it fits with his somewhat tortured psyche
following the death of his son. This is almost the second thread in the book
which keeps the various chapters together. It is a clever way to give a
wholeness to the many parts, and The Godfather of Kathmandu does indeed have
At B. 595 in Bookazine, it is not an expensive price for a heavy tome of
around 300 pages and small font size (make sure you have your reading
glasses handy if you are over the age of 45). If you liked the previous
detective Sonchai Bangkok books, you will like this one too, just put aside
some hours to read it.
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