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.
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.
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.”
“Siri grows more ingenious, wry and wise with every year . . . Atmospheric, humorous, and engaging.”
“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
Read an Excerpt
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.