three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
By: 
John Burdett
user_rating: 
0

A-GodfatherKathmanduThis is the fourth of Burdett’s mystery novels set in Bangkok and starring detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep.

The Story: As portrayed by John Burdett, the city of Bangkok is a bizarre bazaar of drugs, sex, crime—and stranger things. But it’s all in a day’s work for Sonchai Jitpleecheep. As the son of a Thai prostitute and an American military officer, he has traveled the world and learned to approach everything with a calm equanimity, grounded in his Buddhist philosophy. In Godfather that philosophy is again tested as our hero investigates the murder of a famous American film director, while at the same time he is drawn into a drug-smuggling scheme that stretches from his own police department to the peaks of the Himalayas.
Knopf. 320 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307263193.

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A mood of manic farce buoys this convoluted tale, which includes a deft social analysis of a Thai women’s prison, Tantric sex, and hot chocolate laced with high-tech pharmaceuticals. It’s all wildly implausible, but written with such louche authority that, by the end, one cheers the seemingly infinite multiplicity of Burdett’s universe."

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers of what might be termed John Burdett’s Bangkok Trilogy … know that he is adept at getting under the skin of the eponymous Thai capital, where he makes his home. Despite the title of this latest novel, The Godfather of Kathmandu, and the fact that some of its scenes do take place in the Himalayan haunts of the Nepalese capital, those who hunger for more tastes, sounds and smells of Bangkok as only Burdett can render them need have no fear. For that city is once again front and center in this Thai tale of corruption, mayhem and intrigue." Martin Rubin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"This is a novel brimming with observations and arguments, with absurdity and jokes. It has a plot, and the plot has twists. All it lacks is that element of surprise that belongs not only to detective fiction but to all good fiction: suspense. The characters never step out of caricature; the issue is never in doubt. The revelations lack bite." Jason Goodwin

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"John Burdett’s thrillers starring Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the morally elastic Royal Thai police detective, are uneven, but they never fail as entertaining guides to the dark, exotic underworld of Southeast Asia. … The plotlines in this geography of dark ironies and moral pragmatism don’t join seamlessly, however. All they share is Jitpleecheep, who wriggles out of great danger in both." Carlo Wolff

Critical Summary

What consistently impressed critics about The Godfather of Kathmandu was the same thing they liked about John Burdett’s previous novels: his amazingly detailed portrayal of the underworld of Bangkok. How much one will enjoy Godfather as a mystery novel, though, may largely depend on one’s personal tastes. Some reviewers found the characters intriguing and called the novel a page-turner. Others wrote that the plot of the novel seemed implausible and mostly served as an excuse to explore more of Bangkok’s delights—but they rarely objected to that.

First in the Series

Bangkok 8 (2003): The incorruptible Detective Jitpleecheep, son of a Thai prostitute and a long gone American G.I., sets out to avenge his partner and Buddhist soulmate’s death. ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003)