Dr. Siri Paiboun is summoned to the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current communist government hid in caves, waiting to assume power. Now a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, but an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk laid from the president’s former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Siri must supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify it, and determine the cause of death.
The autopsy provides some surprises, but it is his gifts as a shaman that enable the 73-year-old doctor to discover why the victim was buried alive and to identify the killer.
©2006 Colin Cotterill (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Purely entertaining…Elements of the ritualistic killings are pretty gross and the spooks can be scary; but as the author gently points out, life would be dreary without a few thrills.” (New York Times Book Review)
I really enjoy the mixture of medical detail, shamanism, political information and vivid characters. I have now read three of the series and am putting off the treat of the next one, since I want them to last!
The plot switches back and forth between two different intersecting stories involving the three most familiar characters. Great for listening - the voices were brilliant.
Not necessarily - too much of a good thing
Tony Hillerman (1925 - 2008) introduced me to Navajo culture when I picked up a used paperback copy of "The Blessing Way" (1970), laying between small metal cutouts of boots painted turquoise with magnets glued to the back, and a worn and rusted set of metric wrenches at Peddlers Pass in Prescott, AZ. For a few charmed hours, I was transported into a Native American culture nothing like the Ojibwa I was a little familiar with.
Before I listened to Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series, Laos merged into Cambodia/Thailand/Vietnam, just like all Native American tribes were somehow lumped together in my mind before Hillerman's books. Thanks to the epic journey from one end of Laos to the other of Siri's morgue assistant, Mr. Geung in "Disco for the Departed" (2006), I know that Laos is (or was) no more homogenized than any other tribal region. "The Coroner's Lunch" (2004) Book 1 introduced Dr. Siri and his resident spirit, Ya Ming ; "Thirty-three Teeth" (2005) Book 2 introduces the kind, sturdy autodidact Nurse Dtui; and this book - Book 3 shows how people with Down syndrome can preserver over incredible odds.
In "Disco for the Departed", old communist party fighter Dr. Siri solves an old, undiscovered mystery in the caves he and his comrades fought the war from. Deposed Laos royalty continues to play a small, fascinating role in the story. The ghosts that haunt the Disco are a good counterpart to the story, but - in the tradition of all good mysteries - spiritus ex machina does not solve the case.
I don't actually know if the Lao pronunciations are right, but I assume Cotterill - who lived in Laos for years but was raised In an English speaking country - chose Clive Chafer as a narrator because his Lao and Hmong pronunciation was good. I didn't need an audio version to enjoy Hillerman's books, but I'm around enough native Navajo speakers when I visit Arizona to know how to read what I'm seeing. Since I don't know Lao or Hmong, the Audible worked especially well for me.
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I love this series. Each book stands alone, but you'd be best advised to start at the beginning, not here, with book three. Unfortunately, the first, "The Coroner's Lunch," is currently unavailable at Audible. What up with that? I've got it in my Audible library. If I could just give it to everyone, I would.
These stories take place three decades after the communist takeover in Laos, after the disaster of the Vietnam War created the problem it was designed to prevent - the spread of an obsolete and cruel ideology. Operating within it is the wonderful Dr. Siri. He knows communism is a failure, but he does his elderly best to be a good man in a bad system. The writing is wonderful, and the stories - all mysteries - are complex, funny and life affirming. They've made me love Laos and its people.
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