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The Godfather of Kathmandu    by John Burdett order for
Godfather of Kathmandu
by John Burdett
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Godfather of Kathmandu is fourth (following Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts) in an exceptional series that masterfully blends gritty and grotesque with soulful and spiritual, while making clear to all us farang readers that Kipling was dead on when he wrote 'Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet'.

The series stars Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, son of a Thai whore and a mysterious American lawyer who fathered him while on leave from Vietnam. A deeply spiritual Buddhist, Sonchai nevertheless helps his mother Nong run a bar. He and the lovely Chanya had a beloved son they both believed to be the incarnation of Sonchai's dead partner and soul brother, Pichai. However, as this episode opens, that child has been killed in a senseless accident, leaving Sonchai desolate. Chanya has left to become a novice nun in a radical forest convent on the border with Laos.

Just before his son's death, Sonchai had compromised his integrity (influenced strongly by his wife and mother) by acceding to his boss Colonel Vikorn's demand (after watching The Godfather too many times) that he act as his consigliere. As the story progresses, we learn that this led Sonchai to Kathmandu, Nepal and a meeting with 'Doctor Norbu Tietsin, the mad Tibetan mind master'. This extraordinary individual, whom some believe the reincarnation of Milarepa, influences Sonchai by telepathy. Tietsin organizes a huge drug deal with Vikorn, Sonchai reluctantly acting as intermediary and facilitator. Why does Tietsin want money? To save Tibet (in a surprising fashion).

Now, as The Godfather of Kathmandu opens, Sonchai and his sensitive katoey (transsexual) partner Lek are called to investigate the horrific death of 'some hyper-rich, hyper-famous Hollywood farang'. Their involvement arouses the enmity of Detective Sukum, who hungers for promotion. The plot weaves its way through the streets of Kathmandu (where descriptions of farang backpackers carrying 'clothing for six months and medical accessories for a year' brought back my trekking memories) and Bangkok. Why is Sonchai's cell number and email address in the victim's computer? And what was mad aristocratic Doctor Mimi Moi's role in his life and death?

Burdett throws in plenty of surprises, as well as philosophical musings on the nature of death and the Far Shore, before it's all over. And as always this latest Sonchai Jitpleecheep romp takes the farang reader on a dizzying, often ironic - and always thoughtful - ride. Definitely not to be missed.

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