Disco for the Departed (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #3)

Disco for the Departed (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #3)

4.4 32
by Colin Cotterill

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Dr Siri Paiboun, reluctant national coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, is summoned to a remote location in the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current government had hidden out in caves, waiting to assume power. Now, as a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, an arm is found protruding…  See more details below


Dr Siri Paiboun, reluctant national coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, is summoned to a remote location in the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current government had hidden out in caves, waiting to assume power. Now, as a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk that had been laid from the President’s former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Dr Siri is ordered to supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify the corpse, and discover how he died.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos in 1977, Cotterill's engrossing third mystery (after 2005's Thirty-three Teeth) takes series hero Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73-year-old national coroner who has recently discovered his shaman ancestry, and Nurse Dtui, his no-nonsense associate, from the capital, Vientiane, to remote Vieng Xai, where a cement-entombed corpse has turned up at the Laotian president's compound. At Kilometer 8 Hospital, Paiboun and Dtui meet Dr. Santiago, a charismatic surgeon on loan from Cuba, who uncovers crucial information about the victim's identity. As they close in on the killer, Paiboun and company must deal with soul-transfer, a marriage proposal, ancient rituals, frenetic dancing, racism and more murders. Horrific sacrificial rituals coexist seamlessly with the endless, banal red tape that hampers the investigation. Paiboun's gift for conversing with the dead comes in handy as he endures such strange happenings as nightly disco music only he can hear. This witty and unusual series just keeps getting better. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
It is 1977, and Dr. Siri Paiboun, Laos's national coroner (The Coroner's Lunch), and his nurse, Dtui, are sent to the mountains of the Hiraphan Province to deal with a corpse encased in cement. Unfortunately, the body is found on the property of the new president, who is planning a huge national celebration there in just days. Once again, Cotterill demonstrates his extensive knowledge of Laotian history and his ability to create memorable characters. Readers who enjoy Eliot Pattison's Asian thrillers (Bone Mountain) will find that Cotterill shares the same sardonic view of Asian communism mixed with a touch of mysticism (the dead speak to Siri), a quality that sets the work of both authors apart from most mystery fare. Cotterill lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 4/1/06.] Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Set in Laos in the 1970s, this is the third book in Cotterill's exotic and engrossing series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73-year-old national coroner; his nurse, Dtui; and Mr. Geung, a developmentally challenged morgue assistant. After a corpse is found entombed in concrete at the presidential compound in remote, mountainous Hiraphan Providence, Paiboun and Dtui are sent from Vientiane to the scene of the apparent crime to sort things out. They need to work fast because a large national celebration is scheduled to take place at the compound in just a few days. Aided by his status as a spirit host, Paiboun takes advantage of clues flowing directly from the dead. But this boon is offset by the endless red tape of the sporadically functioning communist regime. Meanwhile, Mr. Geung, through no fault or choice of his own, is engaged in a separate harrowing, prolonged, and near deadly adventure. Cotterill mixes several elements of mysticism, including soul-transfer, elaborate rituals, dancing (and disco music) for the departed with more conventional themes: racism, international relations, military and government bureaucracy, and romantic posturing. The supernatural happenings and unfamiliar location, time, and characters demand sophistication on the part of teen readers, but for those eager to explore new territory, the novel offers an excellent alternative to the typical American or British mystery setting.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
On the way to solving the mystery of the corpse in the cave, curmudgeonly Dr. Siri meets an array of Comrades as quirky as himself. In the late 1970s, aging Siri Paiboun, national coroner and reluctant communist in the new Laos, is sent with Nurse Dtui, his protegee, to a remote mountain location for what he expects to be an educational retreat. Instead, they're taken to a cave that's a pre-coup hiding place for the current president and are presented with a mystery to solve: Who belongs to the arm sticking out of the concrete, and how did the corpse die? Before the coup, concrete paths often led from housing to hideouts for the president-to-be and his cronies. Aided in their efforts by a prickly Cuban coroner named Santiago-a deft parody of Siri-the shaggy duo threaten to expose political skeletons better left undisturbed. Dtui's crackling banter with Siri confirms her position as a curmudgeon-in-training. As in previous adventures, Siri's deductions are aided by his odd dreams. Meanwhile, an alternate plot follows the jungle odyssey of Geung Watajak, a simple morgue assistant. Though ultimately integrated into the main story, it also stands alone as an effective piece of serious fiction. With its snappy chapter titles and its emphasis on character, this third installment in Cotterill's series will especially appeal to fans returning from earlier episodes (Thirty-Three Teeth, 2005, etc.).
From the Publisher
Praise for Disco for the Departed

“From now on, I’ll even think twice about applying the escapist label to something as purely entertaining as Colin Cotterill’s 1970s period mysteries about that sweetest of sleuths, Dr. Siri Paiboun . . . As the author gently points out, life would be dreary without a few thrills.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Cotterill’s writing is both evocative and educational.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Siri grows more ingenious, wry and wise with every year . . . Atmospheric, humorous, and engaging.”
Portsmouth Herald

“Readers who enjoy Eliot Pattison’s Asian thrillers . . . will find that Cotterill shares the same sardonic view of Asian communism mixed with a touch of mysticism . . . a quality that sets the work of both authors apart from most mystery fare.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

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Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
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Dr. Siri Paiboun Series , #3
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Guesthouse Number One

Dr. Siri lay beneath the grimy mesh of the mosquito net, watching the lizard’s third attempt. Twice, the small gray creature had scurried up the wall and ventured out across the ceiling. On both occasions, the unthinkable had happened. The animal had lost its grip and come plummeting down with a splat onto the bare concrete of the guesthouse floor. For a house lizard this was the equivalent of a man coming unstuck from the ground and falling up with a crash onto the ceiling. Siri could see the stunned confusion on its little puckered face. It looked around to get its bearings, then headed once more for the ­wall.

For over a month, Dr. Siri Paiboun, the national coroner, had been wondering whether his new incarnation might be disruptive to the natural laws of animal behavior. The peculiarities could have started before, but it wasn’t until the mongrel from the ice works began to build a nest in his front yard that he took any notice. She somehow managed to drag old car seats and cement sacks through his front gate and mold them into a very ­uncomfortable-­looking roost. And there she sat patiently, day after day, as if waiting for an unlikely egg. A week later, the paddy mice at the back of the compound formed what could only be described as a gang and started terrorizing his neighbor’s cat. This morning, as he was leaving his house in Vientiane for the trip ­up-­country, he’d looked back to see a hen on his roof. As there was no sign of a ladder, he had to assume the thing had flown up there. And now the lizard. Even if these were all coincidences, it was still very odd. Ever since Siri had discovered his shaman ancestry, a lot of strange things had happened in his ­life.

He worked the nail of his pinky finger around the inside of his mouth, counting his teeth once again. It was a habit he’d fallen into a few months earlier when he’d found out he was different. All ­there – all ­thirty-three of them. The same number of teeth as old Prince Phetsarat, the magician; the same number as some of the most respected shamans in the region; the same number as the Lord Buddha himself. Siri was in hallowed company. But even though he had the right number of teeth, he hadn’t yet taken control of his ­abilities.

Only recently, Siri had learned that he hosted the spirit of an ancient Hmong shaman – Yeh Ming. Until then, he’d always thought the contact he’d had with departed souls in his dreams was some kind of mental illness. He hadn’t bothered to try to interpret their messages, hadn’t even realized that the spirits in his dreams were leaving clues to the causes of their deaths. All that had changed the previous year. Yeh Ming had become more active – woken up, you might ­say – and had drawn the attention of the malevolent spirits of the forest. These evil spirits, these Phibob, were gunning for Siri’s ancestor, and as Siri was his host, Siri was suddenly in the line of fire. Supernatural fireworks were spilling over into his ­life.

Very little could really shock the old surgeon anymore, but he never ceased to be amused by the mysterious events happening around him. His own life seemed to grow more fascinating every day. While others his age had begun to wind down like clocks as they tottered into a frail twilight, Siri had been reborn into a period in which fantasy and reality were interchangeable. Every day was a kick. He felt more alive than ever. If this were truly some kind of senile insanity, it was one he was secretly enjoying: one he was in no hurry to recover ­from.

That May, Siri had arrived at his ­seventy-­third birthday, still as sturdy as a jungle boar. His lungs let him down from time to time but his muscles and his mind were as taut as they’d been in his thirties. His head boasted a shock of thick white hair and his likeable face with its haunting green eyes still drew flirtatious smiles from women half his age. None of his friends could imagine Dr. Siri Paiboun running out of steam for a long while ­yet.

The mosquito-­net-­covered bunk bed in which Siri lay watching the lizard, stood on the floor of Party Guesthouse Number One in the cool northeast of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos; the year was 1977. “Guesthouse” was hardly an appropriate name for the ­two-­story building designed by Vietnamese rectangulists a few years earlier. It looked nothing like a house, and its inmates were certainly not guests. It was mostly inhabited by those who had sinned, ideologically, against Party dictates. Here, the village heads, government officials, and army officers of the old Royalist regime were lulled into believing they had been invited for a holiday in the mountains of Huaphan province, an educational visit to revolutionary ­headquarters.

Earlier that evening, Siri and Nurse Dtui had sat drinking coffee with a group of men from the south who once held senior ranks in the Royalist police force. They still assumed they were merely attending a seminar and would soon return to Vientiane with a new, enlightened understanding of the ­Marxist-­Leninist system. The mood had been jolly as they sat on the ­ground-­floor veranda on uncomfortable red vinyl chairs. The men had spent their first afternoon doing “getting to know you” activities and still wore their paper name tags stapled to the tops of their shirt pockets. Each man’s name was followed by the word “officer,” then a number. As if unwilling to break rank, they’d sat in numerical order around their small circle of ­chairs.

Siri had listened to them boast of their good fortune in seeing a part of the country that was as alien to these urbanites as any foreign land. They spoke of the locals as a tourist would of Africans or peculiar Europeans. Little did they know their brief excursion to the provinces would likely extend to months; in some cases, years. Little did they know they were to be trucked from the comparative luxury of the guesthouse to a site some eighty kilometers away near Sop Hao on the Vietnamese border.

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Disco for the Departed 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1977 in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, seventy-three years old National Coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun accompanied by Nurse Dtui leave Vientiane on an educational trek in the isolated mountainous region. However, upon arrival at Vieng Xai, Siri and Dtui are escorted to a cave where the current Communist President of the country resided before a coup brought him into power. Inside is an arm sticking out of a cement block. At Kilometer 8 Hospital, a Castro loaner Cuban Dr. Santiago meets Siri and Dtui in between explaining what he knows about the victim, the Cuban and the nurse with the Coroner as the depressed referee battle in a contest of wits and words for whom is the Communist champion killjoy. As the trio uncovers clues, the case takes strange spins with sacrificial rituals covered by official red tape making it difficult to follow leads that Siri obtains with his eerie talent of discussing the investigation with the dead to the backdrop of even weirder western disco music. --- The third Paiboun coroner¿s investigation is a superb look at late 1970s Laos where ancient Buddhist rituals and bureaucratic Communist rituals sit side by side. The story line is action-packed, but the cast make the historical whodunit a treat. Besides the terrific lead trio, the support characters add depth to the feel that the audience is in deed in a remote part of Laos just after the Viet Nam War ended. Fans who appreciate something different in their police procedurals will want to read the intelligent DISCO FOR THE DEPARTED and its two previous tales (see THE CORONER¿S LUNCH and THIRTY-THREE TEETH). --- Harriet Klausner
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
“Disco for the Departed” is author Colin Cotterill’s 3rd visit to Dr. Siri Paiboun. At this point in his long life, Dr. Siri thought he’d be enjoying a light workload or even retirement, instead of struggling to support the post-Vietnam war People’s Democrating Republic of Laos’ government by providing coroner services. Further complicating his “golden years” is that the ghosts of the dead can occasionally communicate with Dr. Siri – and sometimes they seem insistent while other times they seem vague. There are two plots running through this book. First, preparations for a governmental celebration in the mountains near the border are interrupted by the discovery of an arm – without any body connected – in concrete at the former presidential palace. Dr. Paiboun must not only solve the mystery of who this person was and why he or she died, but also walk a tightrope of political considerations. Meanwhile, many of the aforementioned spirits congregate nightly in an event which gives the book its title. In a concurrent plot, Geung, the developmentally challenged morgue assistant, has been placed in charge of keeping the place tidy while the good doctor is away. Unfortunately, he is visited and informed that he has been drafted into the military and must leave immediately. Geung declines because he made a commitment to the absent Dr. Siri, but he is not given a choice – until he is able to escape his captors and begins a long adventuresome trek back to the morgue. Cotterill’s sardonic view of governments, governmental regulations and red tape, and the functionaries and leaders who inhabit this world, oozes through each paragraph of the book. This cynicism might overpower the work if it weren’t for the basic goodness and common sense of Siri, Geung, and previously unmentioned Nurse Dtui. The reader is blessed with the ability to rise above any situation and laugh along with the protagonists, rather than having to dwell in the procedural mire of the new Communist regime. It is always a joy to hang out with Siri. RATING: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars where applicable.
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