SD Alternative

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Dr. Seuss

John Burdett, The Godfather of Kathmandu

This description of the fourth book in John Burdett’s Royal Thai Police series is for Kara. Sorry for the wait, [info]ayalesca!

So, let’s recap: in the first book in this series, Sonchai, an addict turned Buddhist arhat (saint) turned non-corrupt – because he has renounced all material things, not because he is against bribery per se – Thai cop is on a mission to revenge his partner and soul-brother, Pichai. Sonchai doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, but despite this the novel is very lively. It’s got a kind of idiosyncratic philosophical defense against the horrors of the world vibe. I recommended this novel to several friends who are depressed, because it seems to achieve a sort of balance between knowledge of evil and will to keep going (with humor!).

Then I read the third book in the series (Bookoff didn’t have the second), wherein Sonchai has achieved some modest material success – and it only brings him down, so that Bangkok Haunts is about ten times more depressing that Bangkok 8. And I mean VERY depressing, in pretty much every way possible – writing style, plot, etc. I thought about giving up on the series after this book, not because it was bad, but because I thought it might be part of a downward trend.

Two points do not constitute a line, though, and so I took The Godfather of Kathmandu out of the library to see whether the series really was going to be depressing from now on. In a word: no. We’ve cycled back around to exhiliaration in this book – only instead of the precariously balanced philosophical tightrope act of Bangkok 8, now we’ve got a protagonist who is insane. ^^; The way the book is going to go is pretty much laid out at the end of the first chapter when Lek, Songchai’s subordinate, gazes lovingly into his eyes and tells him that he has to stop listening to that evil charlatan Tibetan witch doctor who has him staying up all night to meditate and the dual nature of the mind, and go see a real doctor about his bipolar disorder.

…In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, and I’m kinda disappoint in myself for missing the signs earlier in the series. ^^; This is what I get for skipping books, I guess.

It’s again a really good book… I am kind of worried for the author after reading this, though, as condescending as that might sound (sorry John Burdett). Part of it is that these books have been becoming progressively more idiosyncratic, so that while the first book had a lot of information about Thai society, even bits where a Thai sociologist would quote figures on the radio, and the second book had an explanation of the Third Gender in Thailand, by the third book, the plot was mainly about… the porn industry, and a suicidal Japanese art movie director.

But even that book had an A plot about the suffering endured by Thai girls from abusive homes in the countryside, who are sold into prostitution by their parents. In Godfather of Kathmandu, the A plot is about Tibetan Buddhism/the drug trade and the B plot is about film criticism. Which is mostly the kind of book you’d write if you were writing your passions without spending too much time on research, yanno? That and the very convincing depiction of psychosis have me thinking that it’s probably not a put-on this book – the author probably really is a little bit crazy.

So I guess it comes down to whether you like reading books by crazy people, and also whether you like being kept in suspense about whether things will go well or horribly, whether you should read this series. ^^; It is a really smart series, with tons of brilliant observations, both introspective and perceptive. I think I’d still recommend the first book to anyone, at least.
from subdee: