Digging deep, Dr. Siri finds political roots in a seemingly random killing.
In his fourth outing (Disco for the Departed, 2006, etc.), Dr. Siri Paiboun, the only coroner in the grimly totalitarian Laos of the late 1970s, is settling into a more comfy, bantering relationship with his tart assistant, Nurse Dtui, despite their age difference and his curmudgeonly manner. As they examine the private parts of a corpse, Siri chides Dtui for consulting the fortuneteller Auntie Bpoo, a strapping transvestite. (Siri can’t resist secretly consulting Bpoo himself, and comes away impressed.) The death of blind dentist Dr. Buagaew, run down by a truck as he crosses a busy Vientiane intersection, seems an open-and-shut case, but a coded message in the victim’s pocket piques Siri’s curiosity. Buagaew’s widow shrugs it off as chess moves from a long-term, long-distance game her husband had been playing by mail. Convinced that either the widow or the dentist has been lying, Siri consults a former colleague named Dr. Tao for help in cracking the code. The sequel involves a dicey trip across the Thai border by Dtui, and a further consultation with Auntie Bpoo.
As Siri finds his comfort zone in the new regime, Cotterill’s portrait of his world gains depth and breath. Using a twisty mystery as a MacGuffin, he takes droll aim at the absurdities of recent history, all the more fascinating for their plausibility.