The Mystic Arts of Embracing All Signs of Bangkok

At the Barnes & Noble Review, I consider John Burdett’s latest Sonchai Jitpleetcheep novel, THE GODFATHER OF KATHMANDU, which is only partially set in Bangkok but still very much in keeping with the hallucinatory quality of the previous books. Burdett’s novels are distinctive, but problematic; I want to pick fights with each of the books and with Sonchai’s worldview, but damned if I don’t keep coming back for more (which means, of course I’ll be reading the next one.) Here’s how the piece opens:

We tend to think of crime fiction as reading designed for entertainment —

not education. It delivers an almost pure kind of readerly pleasure —

the mystery solved, justice delivered, roughly or otherwise. But

consider, for a moment, how often crime stories concerns themselves

with unveiling a society — or slice of society — that has received

little or the wrong kind of attention. With his Bangkok novels, John

Burdett strives for both. As a British expatriate living in Bangkok for

more than two decades, it’s a given Burdett writes from an outsider’s

perspective, but he takes this several steps further with the novel’s

common protagonist, police detective Sonchai Jitpleetcheep, moving well

beyond entertainment towards the more  Socratic (and idiosyncratic) goals of fiction — they make you think again about what you might have thought you knew.

The proof is in the opening lines of The Godfather of Kathmandu: “Ours is an age of enforced psychosis. I’ll forgive yours, farang, if

you’ll forgive mine — but let’s talk about it later.” Right away

Burdett establishes Sonchai’s didactic attitude towards the reader,

equal parts contempt and curiosity. There’s confrontation in Sonchai’s

reminder here (just as in his three previous appearances, Bangkok 8, <a href=“" rel=“nofollow” target=”blank”>Bangkok Tattoo_  and <a href=“" rel=“nofollow” target=”blank”>Bangkok Haunts_) that the reader is a farang, a foreigner, and thus the other, someone to be admonished or cajoled, addressed directly or skilfully evaded…

Read on for the rest.