We have all heard how difficult the first novel for an author can be. We hear even more often how much more difficult the second novel is. So, when I started reading Sister Suicide, the second Father Ananda book, I had to wonder if it would be as compelling as the first. Mindfulness and Murder had a monk who was struggling with anger and who possessed a biting sarcasm, but also a devotion to justice and the principles of the Buddha’s teachings. Would that same character maintain his appeal? Would the next mystery he faced be as thrilling? In this second endeavor, both Mr. Wilgus and Father Ananda show their readers there is plenty to be thrilled over.
This tale of Father Ananda has him investigating a monastery running a religious theme park, at the request of the Maha Thera Samakhom, a governing body of Thai Buddhism. A nun at the monastery apparently, without leaving a note, committed suicide by jumping into an enclosure full of crocodiles in the theme park. Father Ananda takes along the newly ordained Jak with him to seek out the truth and the trouble starts the minute they get there. The mystery of the nun’s death reveals a dark and nasty secret the monastery has been hiding in plain sight and which has connections all over the rural countryside in which the monastery located.
In Mindfulness and Murder I had ideas about who was guilty of what and why, but in Sister Suicide the plot is more complicated. I was still guessing by the end of the book who Father Ananda was looking for, and sometimes Ananda didn’t know himself. Such careful story telling left me turning page after page hoping for a break in the case that was frustrating Father Ananda so much.
Father Ananda himself is even more enjoyable, as those traits which made him so appealing in the first novel are showcased even more. Ananda is not a superhero, he is just a man. He feels angry, a fault he admits readily, gets frustrated, is compassionate and willing to sacrifice myself for a just cause. It is always a sacrifice as Ananda is not a fighter, he is not even young. Even in the more athletic scenes of the novel, Ananda acts his age. The threat of violence, while it fills him with fear, does not deter him, making him even more endearing of a character to follow.
Mr. Wilgus’s straight forward style makes Sister Suicide such a fun read. It stays moving but always making sure the reader is not getting lost in a larger cast of characters and a more intricate example of the underside of Thai politics and life. Life in Thailand is an important aspect of the novels as well. While, entertaining is foremost in mind Mr. Wilgus’s also adds commentary on the injustices suffered by many in modern day Thailand. However, he never demonizes the people or the Kingdom. Instead he shows how the poor and powerless can stand up to the corruption around them and he does this through the very human character of Father Ananda and those that follow his lead. While not a superhero, Father Ananda is a very relatable hero that embodies the Buddha’s teachings. In the tradition of great literary sleuths, without overshadowing the mystery itself, Father Ananda becomes the reason you want to read the novel.