Soho Crime (August, 2018)
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery (Book #13)
by Shirley Wetzel
1980: Laos Dr. Siri Paiboun, ex-national coroner of Laos, and his friend Comrade Civilai are getting bored with retirement. It’s year five of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, and things haven’t gone well. Everyone who could has escaped over the Mekong River to the relative freedom of Thailand. Those who can’t do the best they can.
When the two elderly gents acquire an expensive movie camera, Siri, never short of creative ideas, decides to film a Laotian version of War and Peace. It will be a tale of epic proportions, covering the thirty year journey of two intrepid and brave warriors fighting off the enemies of Laos, overturning colonial rule, and becoming founding fathers of the new republic. At least some of the script has a basis in reality; other parts might be just a bit embroidered and embellished. Overall it will be a grand spectacle. There are just a few problems: the camera did not come with instructions, there are no actors in the country, and there is a dire lack of funds. The biggest obstacle: they must get approval from the Ministry of Culture. The minister thinks it’s a grand idea, as long as he gets to totally rewrite the script.
Their friend Phosy Vongvichau, the newly promoted Senior Police Inspector, is finding the breaking-in period trying. Some object to his youth; others resent him for taking a job they wanted. All the crooked cops he fired are none too happy. His first case in his elevated position is a puzzler. A woman’s skeletal body is left where it is sure to be found, under the one street light in town. Since she was deposited there during curfew, the pool of suspects is restricted to a privileged few.
Dr. Siri refuses to be recalled to examine the body, turning it over to the capable Nurse Dtui, Phosy’s wife, and Mr. Geung, the former morgue assistant and current employee at Madame Daeng’s noodle shop. The cause of death is shocking: the young woman was gnawed to death by small animals.
Mr. Geung has the ability to talk to animals, living or dead. When he and his lover, Tukta, go missing soon after the autopsy, everyone is worried. Both have Down’s syndrome, two innocents in a dangerous world. The noodle shop justice league, comprised of Civilai, Dr. Siri, his wife Madame Daeng, Phosy and Nurse Dtui, spring into action.
The gang runs into big trouble when they uncover a massive illegal trade in exotic animals. The trade is technically legal, as long as the animals are treated humanely. That is not the case for the animals sent from Laos to zoos and private collections all over the world, but the immoral and wealthy thugs who run the business do not care.
All the beloved major characters find themselves in perilous situations, and it looks like all might be lost. Their salvation depends on one crazy naked Indian who doesn’t speak, but does know how to write. The grand finale is satisfying and glorious, and it will make a spectacular scene in the movie: if Dr. Siri and Civilai ever figure out how to turn it on.
This is the thirteenth in Mr. Cotterill’s marvelous series. The characters are lovable, exasperating, noble, and above all hilarious. They bring hope and possibilities as Laos adapts to the stumbling Communist regime. The books entertain and inform. The trade in exotic animals, alive and in parts, is horrendous; the trade in human flesh is a major worldwide tragedy. Mr. Cotterill shines a light on this darkness.
As always, highly recommended.
Copyright © 2018 Shirley Wetzel. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!