Book Review: Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex.

   By Pete Johnson

Richard S. Ehrlich's book, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet,
India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York," is a
compilation of his experiences as an American foreign correspondent
based in Asia.

Ehrlich's introduction says his "news stories portray fragments of
people and their distant voices."

As a result the book is fragmented.

Although it is divided into four chapters, the chapters are not
related to each other, so it is really four stories.

The four stories -- the title of the book, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. &
Sex" -- are related to each other geographically, as they are stories
originated in Asia.

The four stories are interesting, they are a window into the dark
underbelly of Asia.

Chapter 1 "Rituals" describes four specific bizarre Asian rituals
involving death.

This reader was completely unaware of all four of these practices,
which are driven by geography and, of course, religion.

They include the practice of giving up dead human bodies to vultures
in Tibet, as well the Dalai Lama's views on one's ability to exist in
the afterlife.

Also included in this section is a description of sadhus in India and
Nepal, who "try to free their imprisoned spirits from the shackles of
their mortal bodies" by twisting their bodies into pretzel positions
and undergoing other ascetic acts.

This chapter finishes with a description of the lowest Hindu caste
of people in India, who are the Dom caste, relegated to untouchable

Chapter 2 "Killers" relates the stories of six little-known notorious
Asian killers, including two who's murders and work trace back to
America's CIA.

Even if true crime stories interest you, it is doubtful that you have
heard of these people.

The first, the CIA's Tony "Poe" Poshepny, who operated out of Laos.

The second, the CIA's James "Mule'" Parker worked out of Vietnam.

Add to that are four stories of Asian killers which include a Dalai
Lama-linked insurgent Jampa Phuntsok in Tibet, the “Bikini Killer”
Charles Sobhraj, India's “Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi, and imprisoned
American Jonathan “Jack” Idema in Kabul.

Chapter 3 “Wars” is the longest chapter in the book.

It consists mostly of interviews with the important figures in the conflicts.

It is not a historical telling of the wars, but rather a narrative of
the authors experiences, including names like Afghanistan's
Hekmatyar, Daoud, Dostam, Najibullah, Daoud Khan, Amin, and many

There are three wars being discussed.

The first is Afghanistan, including both the Soviet invasion and
America's involvement.

The second covers India's Kashmir region and conflict.

The last is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

The final chapter “Sex” interviews two American sex workers.

The first of the two, Peri, is a New York stripper.

The second, Michelle, relates her own history as well as stories of
her friends' experiences in the sex industry on 42nd Street, thus
expanding the scope of the narrative.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent
reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction
books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos,
Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes,
Smugglers & Freaks" are available at