An elderly man has been run down by a logging truck on the street in Vientiane just opposite the post office. His body is delivered to the morgue of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the official and only coroner of Laos. At the age of 73, Siri is too old to be in awe of the new communist bureaucrats for whom he now works. Before he can identify the corpse, he must decipher a letter in the man’s pocket—it is written in invisible ink and in code. He was a blind retired dentist, his widow explains, and the enigmatic letters and numbers describe chess moves, but they are unlike any chess symbols Siri has previously encountered. With the help of his old friend, Civilai, now a senior member of the Laos politburo; Nurse Dtui; Phosy, a police officer; and Auntie Bpoo, a transvestite fortune-teller, Siri must solve the mystery of the note to the blind dentist and foil a plot to overthrow the government of Laos.
Crack another case with Dr. Siri.
©2007 Colin Cotterill (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"A series of terrifically beguiling detective novels…Whimsical, more personal stories that feature Siri and an equally memorable set of supporting characters…A wry, seasoned, offhand style that has been the secret weapon of this unexpectedly blithe and charming series." (New York Times Book Review)
I used to have a crush on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's Dr. Gil Grissom, so adeptly played by William Petersen. And Petersen as Will Graham in Michael Mann's "Manhunter" (1986)? Based on Thomas Harris' 1981 "Red Dragon" prequel to the book/film "The Silence of the Lambs" (1988/1991), Petersen as a fictional investigator is tenacious and cooly ironic.
Gil Grissom/William Petersen, I'm sorry. I will always admire your entomological wizardry - but my forensic adoration had been replaced with the 1977 version of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73 year old National Coroner of Laos. Dr. Siri's impossibly green eyes are a tell that he is the host of a millennia-old sprit - but only Buddhists "in the know" recognize the shaman Ya Ming in the Laotian National Coroner.
In Colin Cotterill's "Anarchy and Old Dogs" (2007), the resourceful Dr. Siri is faced with a puzzle Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret would love. The question wasn't how an elderly man died: it was the result of a marriage of a poorly made Soviet truck with badly designed brakes, and a man blinded by cataracts who couldn't have seen it coming. Dr. Siri's question: who was the man, and why had he just picked up a blank "letter" sent from a town near the Thai border?
Dr. Siri's sardonic comments about communism and bureaucracy are a wonderful complement to the equally snarky repartee of his oldest friend, Comrade Civilai. Civilai and Dr. Siri are both founding members of the Pathet Lao. Civilai's adept maneuvering has gotten him party respect, a large house, and even access to a plane and pilot. Dr. Siri uses Civilai's privileges to solve the mystery, and to find romance.
I enjoyed the narration - as always, Clive Chafer's pronunciation of Lao, Hmong, and French words are an easy listen.
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