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Review: John Burdett's mystery, detective series continues with 'The Godfather of Kathmandu'

Sonchai Jitpleecheep has a lot on his mind.

The Royal Thai Police detective, the charmingly reluctant hero of John Burdett's series of wildly inventive mysteries set in Bangkok, makes his fourth appearance in The Godfather of Kathmandu. On the clock, he is investigating the murder of American film director Frank Charles. His massive body has been found in an apartment he rents in the red-light district where Sonchai grew up, convenient for Charles' dalliances, sometimes with as many as 10 young ladies at once.

But Charles' appetites aren't the issue now. He has been gutted like a fish, and the top of his skull has been neatly sawed open so that his killer could dine upon his brain. As for the whereabouts of his fabled final film, who knows?

Sonchai has other problems to deal with. His boss and mentor, Colonel Vikorn, has watched his DVDs of the Godfather movies too many times — he wants to enlist Sonchai as his Sicilian-style consigliere, specifically to manage an enormous heroin purchase from a source in Nepal. This despite Sonchai's sincere, if often detoured, Buddhist pursuit of escape from the wheel of karma, not to mention that he is in mourning for his young son, killed in an accident, and for the apparent end of his marriage.

Dispatched to Kathmandu, Sonchai meets Tietsin, the exiled Tibetan lama who is selling the heroin. Tietsin might be an otherworldly guru, he might be a criminal, he might be a freedom fighter; Sonchai can't be sure, nor can he be sure of the motives of Tara, a beautiful practitioner of Apocalyptic (a.k.a. Tantric) Buddhism.

Back in Bangkok, he also has to decipher the intentions and involvement of Dr. Mimi "Mad" Moi, scion of a distinguished Chinese-Thai family and freelance pharmacologist. And just what is the significance of the padparadschas, rare and invaluable pink sapphires? Sonchai, and Burdett, spin the wheels within wheels to satisfying effect.

The Godfather of Kathmandu

By John Burdett

Knopf, 298 pages, $25.95

Review: John Burdett's mystery, detective series continues with 'The Godfather of Kathmandu' 02/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 20, 2010 3:30am]
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