Mindfulness and Murder by Nick Wilgus (Crime Wave Press)

 

What! A mystery set in Bangkok without a bar-girl to be seen, in which the detective is completely Thai and a Buddhist monk to boot? Yes, that's right--Father Ananda is a man who observes all of the 227 precepts that are demanded of Theravada monks, which means no alcohol, no nicotine, no joys of the flesh--not even coffee passes his lips. He's a far cry from most of the crime-solvers in Bangkok--but then authors write about what they know and author Nick Wilgus clearly knows more about Bangkok than what can be seen from a bar stool.

When a body is found inside a large water jar in one of the temple's bathrooms, eyes gouged out, skin embellished with cigarette burns, and a large yellow candle jammed into its mouth, Father Ananda is one of the first to know. Before taking his vows, he was a police officer, a man all too familiar with the smell of death, and his abbot charges him with the task of finding who the murderer might be, working with the police from the privileged position of a monastic insider.

The dead body is that of Noi, one of the temple boys, street kids who find food and shelter on sacred ground. Like many of them, this boy has a past filled with drugs, violence, and sexual abuse. Father Ananda soon discovers that Noi had been part of a drug-trafficking ring within the temple--one that may involve the monks themselves. When one of the monks disappears, leaving a hidden cache of drugs behind, Father Ananda is certain that some of his monastic brothers are not who they pretend to be.

Mindfulness and Murder introduces one of the most intriguing detectives since Hercules Poirot and "his little grey cells." Father Ananda is a complex character who became a monk after his wife and son were slaughtered in an act of underworld retaliation. He carries his grief and anger deep below his Buddhist practice and the ancient prayers he has memorized; he wrestles with the memory of physical affection and his innately Thai appreciation of good food. He brusquely rejects the tender respect shown by Jak, the boy who helps him with tasks of daily living in return for the teaching that a senior monk provides. On the outside, he is an observant monk; on the inside Father Ananda is an emotional minefield.

And he is an analytical detective, well aware of the criminal mind and the world it thrives in. While set in the quiet serenity of a Buddhist temple, Father Ananda presents readers with a knowledgeable view of a Bangkok rarely shown in fiction--its street life, its food stalls, its hidden neighborhoods--all within the framework of a mystery that serves up a macabre surprise in a coffin and a murderous cobra.

Previously published in Thailand, Mindfulness and Murder introduces a series of Father Ananda mysteries, and was made into a critically acclaimed movie that promptly went on the international film festival circuit and now can be seen on Netflix. Weighing in at just a whisper over 200 pages, this mystery packs more excitement and background information than any of its bloated counterparts. Forget John Burdett--Nick Wilgus is Our Man in Bangkok (even if he has moved to the U.S.)~Janet Brown