Distinguishing crooks from good guys is only one of the pleasures and challenges offered by the fourth in Burdett’s series chronicling the morally compromised adventures of Thai policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheek (Bangkok Haunts, 2007, etc.).
The framing story concerns Sonchai’s assignment to protect his greedy boss Colonel Vikorn’s graft from Bangkok’s illegal enterprises against the ambitions of the latter’s brutal superior General Zinna. Offering to help Vikorn come out on top is defrocked Tibetan lama Tietsin, who also peddles drugs and is rumored to be fomenting Tibet’s takeover of China. Distracting from their campaign against Zinna is the nasty murder of morbidly obese American film director Frank Charles, as well as the detainment of a hot babe drug mule who Knows Too Much For Her Own Good. Sonchai shuttles among Nepal, Hong Kong, Kathmandu and other places of interest, haunted by recurring memories of his six-year-old son’s terrible illness and death. Further bedevilments are provided by his estranged wife, Chanya, his law-defying pragmatic mom, Nong, and such troublesome dames as sexually available “actress” Tara and elusive Doctor Moi, “the most exotic criminal in Thailand.” The movies are of course materially involved. Colonel Vikorn avidly studies the Godfather films and adopts Corleone family power tactics (e.g., anointing Sonchai his consigliere). A notorious noir film, if re-mastered, may answer the burning question: Did Frank Charles fake his own death? Though the novel is top-heavy with redundant interview-interrogations, Sonchai’s wry narrative voice (think: exotic Philip Marlowe) keeps us hooked until General Zinna pulls off a climactic double-cross and Sonchai begins to understand how Tietsin just may accomplish “the silent invasion of China by Tibetan thought.”
A blissfully nutty caper that brings back fond memories of the late lamented Ross Thomas’ crazy-quilt crime fiction.