Some primitive villagers might just love Dr. Siri to death.
Judge Haeng, head of the Justice Department in newly Communist Laos, demands that curmudgeonly coroner Dr. Siri accompany him north to examine the body of a Party official. Since recent political upheavals in the late 1970s, the north has become home to many refugees from China, known as Hmong, feared to be violent. Because Haeng is Siri’s boss, the elderly coroner can complain but not refuse. Tart-tongued Nurse Dtui, temporarily in charge of the Vientiane cutting room, faces an immediate challenge: a corpse booby-trapped with explosives. Then morgue assistant Geung recognizes a dangerous criminal called The Lizard in a batch of photographs some of the nurses took casually, and Dtui and her husband Phosy, a police detective, undertake an investigation. Meanwhile, Siri faces danger when he’s captured by a group of Hmong villagers and Judge Haeng flees. Believing Siri to be the long-dead shaman Yeh Ming, his captors take him back to their village and stuff him with food. (The eponymous pogo stick hangs on the wall of a hut, revered as a sacred icon.) They want him to reverse the string of catastrophes that has depleted their numbers—or else.
Dr. Siri’s fifth (Anarchy and Old Dogs, 2007, etc.), with its echoes of Orwell and Waugh, tips more toward social satire than detection, with Cotterill’s ironic pen as sharp as ever.