When an elderly doctor takes over as state coroner of newly Communist Laos, he unexpectedly stirs the bureaucratic pot and gets a new lease on life.
Shortly after the monarchy of Laos falls in late 1975, the Party takes over, and most of the intelligentsia flee the country. Apolitical Dr. Siri Paiboun, 73, expects to retire. The widowed Siri was educated in Paris, where he met his wife, Boua, an ardent Communist who insisted on the couple’s return to Laos. Mocking Siri’s fantasies of leisure, magistrate Haeng appoints him the new state coroner. But Siri turns the tables by taking the job seriously and emboldening his staff of previously persecuted misfits to do the same. He unravels three complicated and intertwined murder plots his superiors want to sweep under the carpet. First, Mrs. Nitnoy, the wife of esteemed Comrade Kham, abruptly keels over her lunch in a crowded restaurant and dies. The apparently unconcerned Kham’s elaborate tale of his wife’s lifelong fondness for raw pork makes Siri suspicious. Then a trio of young Vietnamese men—Tran, Tran, and Hok—found in a jungle interests Siri because of signs of torture. Finally, the slashing of a young woman’s wrist seems too staged a suicide. A succession of vivid, wacky dreams helps Siri organize his thoughts and further enlivens his waking life.
This series kickoff is an embarrassment of riches: Holmesian sleuthing, political satire, and droll comic study of a prickly late bloomer.