A curmudgeonly coroner matches wits with a serial killer.
Elderly Dr. Siri Paiboun (Curse of the Pogo Stick, 2008, etc.) continues to thumb his nose at the officious communist government in Laos. When an agent from the Department of Housing Allocation named Koomki attempts to take him in for a scheduled hearing, Siri snatches the summons out of his hand and brazenly burns it. A few years into the new regime, experience and his advanced age have made Siri blithely sarcastic and pointedly heedless of authority. He’s instilled confidence in his sidekicks, Nurse Dtui and lab assistant Geung Watajak, and given them increased responsibilities; increasingly they behave like him. This is not to say that they’re professionally neglectful: The autopsy of a young woman who has been sexually brutalized before her murder prompts tears in Dtui and anger in Siri. Eerie, italicized chunks of narrative put the reader into the head of Phan, a killer several steps ahead of Siri. As he stalks his next victim, a flirtatious young schoolteacher named Wei, Siri and his office amass evidence that a serial killer is on the loose. Predictably, Koomki returns with reinforcements, ensnaring Siri in the Laotian bureaucracy, which for all its absurdity presents a genuine danger to him and his freedom.
The plot is more conventional than in previous Dr. Siri mysteries, but Cotterill unfolds it expertly. Siri’s morgue is as entertaining as a comedy club.