The Curious Corpse by Nick Wilgus is a strange, beguiling and oddly compelling novel featuring Wilgus’s established monk/ detective, Father Ananda.
Ananda is a superb character: well cultivated, with a genteel manner similar to that of P.D James’ Adam Dalgliesh, he flourishes as he searches for the killer of a foreign woman with mysterious links to the Russian Mafia.
Set in Bangkok, the novel focuses little on Ananda’s vocation. Rather like the Christian clergy members seen in many older detective stories, the protagonist’s job is used more as an explantation for his calm and authoritative demeanour, which contrasts perfectly with the flapping, chaotic colleagues he has to contend with. His past as a police officer seems to provide the character with the incentive and reason to undertake the investigation.
Despite the excellent characterisation of Ananda and a handful of the book’s other characters, the flow of the novel is disrupted by the writing style, which is at times difficult to follow. Sentence structures seem to be used in groups; either the author breaks an entire paragraph down into needless three word sentences or he fills a page with sentences that are several clauses long.
The tone is equally difficult to follow. The novel fluctuates between a smooth, semi-formal tone and a more relaxed one, where phrases such as “She’d been bashed about the head right and proper” are interspersed within the narrative, making the writing awkward at times. The dialogue also feels a little stilted and unrealistic, with many of the central characters speaking in ways contrary to their descriptions. For example, Abbot Worathammo is described as being a wise and highly spiritual man with limited organisation skills: despite this, he speaks constantly in panicked prose and asks unintelligent questions. As soon as Ananda arrives he demands to know what is going on, despite the fact that he been at the scene longer.
The writing issues aside, this is a really interesting and well plotted book. You would do well to read it just for the protagonist: with a little sculpting Father Ananda could easily be the next Father Brown. The plot is devilish and exciting, with the reader drawn into a thrilling plot that is pure escapism.
Overall, this book is exhilarating and fiendishly plotted, if not well written. There is excitement to be had and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you like traditional style crime fiction, which is what the author is clearly imitating.