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murder, stalker, Laos, historical-places-events, history-and-culture, verbal-humor, witches, spirits, series
Once again Dr Siri gets railroaded into an investigation. It seems that a witch has told the wife of a party dignity where to find the lost body of the man's brother and Dr is to go along for the ride and to identify said body. He is allowed to take Mme Daeng, Mr Seung, and the dog Ugly with him, and Civilai joins them early and later on this trip. Inspector Phosy continues to do background work on this project as well as investigating the whereabouts and identity of the Frenchman stalking Mme Daeng. Nurse Dtui even performs her first solo autopsy as there is no replacement for the position of national Coroner. Lots more intrigue, conundrums, spirits, humor, and revelations, including sequential episodes in the memoir Mme Daeng is encouraged to write. Excellent work as usual!
Clive Chafer continues to be excellent as narrator for this series.
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Comrade Dr. Siri Paiboun, the retired National Coroner of Laos, inhabits a world so vividly written it already stands the test of time. Colin Cotterill's Siri Paiboun series is set in late 1970's Laos, after the Pathet Lao overthrew the Lao monarchy, and at the beginning of a new country. Laos, as I've learned listening to Cotterill's books, is a rich collection of tribes, cultures, and languages. Their histories are as complex and fascinating as the legendary tribes of North America - the Navajo, the Ojibwa, and the Lakota. Cotterill's fiction is a window into daily living in the ascendency of Sino-Communist nations, just as Arthur Conan Doyle's (1859 - 1930) Sherlock Holmes stories are a glimpse into daily Victorian England and Tony Hillerman's (1925 - 2008) Lt. Joe Leaphorn series explores the culture and beliefs of the tribes of the American Southwest along with daily practicalities.
I visited China in 1981, shortly after it 'opened up' to western travel. It was a China of sturdy blue Mao suits; one speed no-brake bicycles instead of cars; of grain drying on city streets; of Hutongs instead of high rises; and of intermittent electricity even at the second best hotel in Beijing, the Friendship Hotel. If Laos was similar to China at about the same time, Cotterill's books are historically accurate. But it's not the details that bring me back to the series - it's Cotterill's characters.
"The Woman Who Wouldn't Die" (2013) finally - and finely - creates a real Madame Daeng, Siri's second wife. Madame Daeng and Siri met in the revolution, but he was married to the exemplary revolutionary heroine, Bua. Bua was the public role model of every aspiring Lao female warrior, including Daeng It turns out that Daeng was, covertly, as brave, clever and perhaps more deadly than Bua - but because her success was predicated on secrecy, no one - including Siri - knew.
Madame Daeng's autobiography is laid out in parallel chapters as Siri and Daeng solve a vexing mystery, along with his comrades - Nurse Dtui and her husband, Inspector Posey; founding communist party member Comrade Civilai; and Mr. Tsung, the extremely capable morgue assistant who coincidentally has Down syndrome. The mystery's a good one, and the Cotterill's more adept in this book than his previous books at laying out the clues without making them stand out as clues.
Cotterill's made a good choice of narrator in Clive Chafer. Chafer's good at switching between Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and English. He's English and he's reading with an accent - not British, but? Whatever it is, I like it.
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