John Burdett's mysteries featuring Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police are a brilliant mix of puzzling mystery and comparative sociology, and while this particular novel may be the weakest of the series, I still found it a worthy listen.
One of the brightest points of the series has been the exploration of this fascinating culture and how it compares and -- more significantly -- contrasts with Western societies. I find myself endlessly captivated by the exploration of Thai and Buddhist culture -- the beliefs, attitudes and general outlook on life. I have to admit that I am only assuming that it is an an accurate depiction, but even if it is not, the novels present an interesting and intriguing alternative to conventional Western thought.
I learned a long time ago that one should never deny the opportunity to learn, and that such opportunities can come from anyone and anywhere; I've learned from people with little formal education, people with varying degrees of intelligence including those whose IQ are far below average, from the highly advantaged and the severely disadvantaged alike. This series punctuates my belief as Sonchai overhears a couple of tourists laughing how one of them found a foot-print left on the toilet seat by his Thai "companion" of the night, assuming her to be a savage for not knowing how to use a modern toilet. Sonchai interrupts to inform them that medical evidence shows that people using a "squat toilet" have a much lower incidence of colon cancer than their "more modern" counterparts. He might have also mentioned that the position can make bathroom trips more pleasant for people with digestive illnesses such as Crohn's Disease who often suffer severe cramping in this most common of human endeavors. But this is just one example found in the novels of the benefits of an open mind.
Sonchai himself is one of the most interesting characters I've ever encountered in all my years of reading and listening to audiobooks. A devout Buddhist constantly concerned with maintaining the positive karmic balance of his soul struggling within a legal system filled with corruption. Considered a "half-caste" because of his heritage as the son of a former Thai prostitute and a Western soldier long since gone, he has the additional burden of distrust from "pure" Thais to contend with as well. He is often assigned to cases that involve foreigners in Thailand; however, since his mother often aligned with rich foreigners who could provide her son with travel and education beyond the limits of one culture, he shines in these situations.
Most of the novels also have wonderful plots filled with mysteries that are complex and straddle cultural gaps. The Godfather of Katmandu is no exception, but the plot here takes a distinct backseat to the evolution of Sonchai. Having recently lost his beloved son shortly after agreeing to take on an exclusive position with his boss that would allow him to provide better for his son, but would also place him in compromising positions regarding his Buddhist beliefs, we find a Sonchai who has lost much of his interest in life. He is not the same Sonchai who cannot resist an interesting mystery or who demands to know the truth even if he knows that the system he works within will not necessarily care or even consider it. He has been laid low and feels unable to combat the inertia and apathy of depression even though he knows it is leading him only further into the darkness.
As I stated before, this is certainly the weakest of the series yet. Part of the problem is the weakness in the plot of the mystery, but a bigger part of the problem is seeing Sonchai in such a place. And if the mystery seems weak, it is made even weaker by Sonchai's indifference. And yet, it is also a story of a man seeking redemption. If you follow the series, you cannot help but hope for Sonchai to find it and to regain his interest in life and following the path of the Buddha. And that will keep you listening.
The basic idea has possibilities -- too bad the author actually saw absolutely none of them. I mean, we could have had a clever Satan (hey, if he can tempt anyone including Jesus, he ought to be clever, right?) with a perfectly satirical look at his relationship with God and "Hiss" history. Instead, we get some whiny b**** who certainly doesn't seem intelligent enough to tempt a dog with raw steaks in his hands!
This book could have been wicked fun. Good riddance!
A great part of the fun of this listen is the astounding and preposterous things that the characters all accept as normal! In that way, it reminded me of The Munsters or The Addams Family! Still, the real story surrounds the kids -- Titus, Pandora and Baby Damp, a father who disappeared, and a family fortune. Oh, and don't forget the nanny who seems too perfect to be true and isn't telling everything.
Seriously, all I can say about this is that I nearly fell off the bed laughing. My stomach was sore for two days after! I'm only glad that I listened to it 'cos I don't think I could have possibly read it correctly -- even to myself.
Personally, I'm guessing the latter. Sorry, I tried, but I could not get through even a whole hour of this book. It's not even so much that it didn't make sense (although it didn't!) -- it's more like ... well, I remember trying to read Gulliver's Travels at the age of eleven: I would read a page, go to the next and immediately return to the previous page -- it just would not stick in my mind. Same here -- no matter how many times I listened to particular passages, they just didn't stick! Years later -- with a lot of footnotes -- Gulliver made sense. I'm not sure that footnotes would help this one; in fact, it would probably only add to the chaos.
But I must admit that if one needs a narrator for this type of book, this would be the one to choose! He does a great mad scientist/conspiracy theorist!
This book had me from the moment that I heard the kids all wanting to play "Dart-onion" after having seem The Three Musketeers! So the plot was a little contrived and filled with coincidences -- it was still a lot of fun! Of course, these days a kid missing the train and getting left behind wouldn't just be put by himself on the next train after being left to his own devices in a hotel room -- or be allowed to forget the train and ride with "friends" he just met -- even if the father is the very actor who played "Dart-onion!" But the truth is, it was too fun a listen to let any of the little flaws bother you!
Over the course of his freshman year in High School, a boy learns that, many times, things are not what they seem at first glance. It's fun, interesting, and even a little inspirational to see him slowly "wake up" to see things the way they actually are as opposed to the way he had always assumed that they were. Sometimes, you just have to look past the surface to see the man behind the curtain.
Although I found the full cast sometimes confusing -- I have to admit, I missed the narrative "he said," and "she said," as clues to whom was speaking -- the voice actors were well-cast.
Oh, if you're wondering, the "Wide Awake" references all come from M. Night Shyamalan's first film, Wide Awake which brings up a lot of the same themes.
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a good story that features realistic kid characters, and Sam is about as realistic a preschooler as they get! That's apparent the moment he jumps into the nursery school car pool and punches his best friend hello, makes a face at one of the girls who rides with them and studiously ignores the girl in the front seat who is pretending to read even though they all know she can't read yet! Lowry does make a few references to Sam's first book: All About Sam, but it isn't necessary to have read it -- tho it was fun, too.
Sam's mother announces that she only wants home-made gifts for her birthday this year. And when he hears the family discussing the fact that Mom's favorite perfume is no longer available, he gets the perfect idea about what to make! But how exactly do you make perfume? And how are his 13-year-old sister and father doing with their presents -- Anastasia is getting poetry help from Sam, and Dad's not saying anything about his plans!
My only disappointment was the narrator. It's not that he's bad so much as it would be nice if more people knew that there were ways to tell stories for kids without being so @*@! condescending! Sorry, but I can't help but get indignant for kids; and, yes, they can usually tell when you're being patronizing and condescending to them, and they don't like it! Do you? On the other hand, the characters all had distinctive voices so that there wasn't any confusion about who was speaking.
Nonetheless, it's a fun book. I imagine it's even more fun when parents and kids listen to it together. But, keep in mind, since the main character is a pre-schooler, there are age limits on which kids will listen!
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