@@@ (3 out of 5)
Start with a devout Buddhist homicide detective in Bangkok named Sonchai Jitpleecheep, half-American, half-Thai, the son of a prostitute now retired to running a red light district bordello. Add a rich and famous Hollywood director murdered in a perverted and mysterious manner, a Chinese-Thai high society lady with an Oxford doctorate in pharmacology who presides over the Thai branch of a centuries-old Chinese criminal society, the police colonel and Army general who are (respectively) Thailand’s biggest and second-biggest heroin traffickers, a powerful Tibetan Buddhist mystic who is leading the Tibetan resistance to China, plus Sonchai’s sensitive transgender sidekick and assorted other uniquely complex characters. Here’s what you’ve got:
(1) the fourth in John Burdett’s Bangkok cycle featuring detective Jitpleecheep and his criminal boss, Colonel Vikorn;
(2) a story so convoluted and perverse that your head will spin; and
(3) an over-the-top crime story unlike any other you will ever read.
And (3) is the problem. Burdett’s first book in the cycle, “Bangkok 8,” introducing Detective Jitpleecheep, was enthralling from start to finish. The detective’s struggle to remain honest in the midst of unbridled corruption, the complexities and contradictions of his life, the tug and pull of his Buddhist beliefs, and the extraordinary murder he set out to solve — all contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. The second book in the series, “Bangkok Tattoo,” was almost as good; the third, “Bangkok Haunts,” not so much. “The Godfather of Kathmandu,” unlike its predecessors, contained puzzles within puzzles and was much harder to follow. Still rewarding, and worth reading to the end. Just not up to the quality of Burdett’s earlier work.